“If you seek to give safeguards to a minority, you isolate it… Maybe, you protect it to a slight extent but at what cost-at the cost of isolating and keeping it away from the main current.”
(Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, May 26, 1949, Address to Constituent Assembly)
The recommendations of the National Commission on Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) are not only aimed at further dividing the Indian society but also fraught with dangerous consequences in the future. The recommendations, if accepted by the government as they are, will pave the way for rapid disintegration of the Hindu society and open the floodgates of conversion of people from the Dalit community to Christianity, which in turn would threaten the integrity and social harmony of the Indian polity.
The NCRLM, headed by former Chief Justice of India, Justice Ranganath Misra, had presented its report two years ago to the Government of India. However, this report was tabled in both Houses of Parliament on December 18, 2009. The four-member Commission included Chairman Justice Ranganath Misra, members Tahir Mahmood, the late Anil Wilson and Mohinder Singh, and Member-Secretary Asha Das. Das appended a note of dissent saying she did not agree with the recommendation of treating Christian/Muslim Dalits at par with Hindu/Sikh/Buddhist Dalits.
Justice Rangnath Misra recommended 10 per cent reservation to Muslims and 5 per cent to Christians. (As Muslims constitute 73 per cent of the minority population). However, the most controversial of these was the recommendation to grant Scheduled Caste status to those Dalits who had converted to either Christianity or Islam at par with those Dalits who belonged to Sikh or Buddhist faith.
The Ranganath Misra panel report made three main suggestions:
a) Article 16 (4), which is the constitutional basis for providing job quotas to OBCs, should be the basis for providing reservation benefits to minority groups who are socially and economically backward. It also said that minorities should not only include those dubbed minorities by the 1992 National Commission for Minorities Act, “but all religious minorities-large or small-including Hindus in the UT of Lakshadweep and the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Punjab”.
b) At least 15 per cent seats in all non-minority educational institutions should be earmarked for minorities. According to the panel, as “73 per cent of minorities are Muslims”, the break-up should be 10 per cent for Muslims and 5 per cent for “the other minorities”. The Commission seeks the same 15 per cent quota for minorities in government jobs, central and state services and even in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The report also calls for a sub-quota in OBC quota clearly marked out for those minority communities which come under the broad head of OBCs.
c) De-link Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the SC net fully religion-neutral, like that of Scheduled Tribes. In addition to its original terms of reference in 2005, the Commission had been asked to determine whether reservation, as provided to Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh SCs, should be extended to Muslim and Christian Dalits (as outlined by a government order issued in 1950). Calling the caste system “all-pervading”, the Commission says the Constitution while describing and defining SCs/STs did not perceive a dimension of religion in it.
However, the most controversial recommendation that is fraught with dangerous motives is extending the net of reservation to those converted Dalits. The Commission recommended scrapping the Constitutional Order of 1950 to allow inclusion of converted Dalits in the Scheduled Caste category.
The panel report said: “In view of what has been said above, we recommend that para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950-which originally restricted the Scheduled Caste net to the Hindus and later opened it to Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, etc.-should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link the Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Castes net fully religion neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.”
Commenting on the report and its recommendations, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said that the government was ‘considering’ the recommendations and sending it to the various ministries for their suggestions and responses before taking any concrete decision.
As expected the NCRLM report invited the caustic comments from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While senior BJP leader and former party chief Rajnath Singh demanded outright quashing of the report, the VHP threatened a stir if the government went ahead on implementing it. Rajnath Singh said that the report would pave the way for separatism in the country. Drawing parallel to 1916 Congress session of Lucknow wherein the Congress conceded to the separate electorate for Muslims and 1937 Peerpur resolution, Shri Singh cautioned the nation about the dangerous portents of the report. “In fact, these events had led to the division of the country into India and Pakistan,’’ he said, adding “the Ranganath Misra Commission recommendations are a fresh attempt to divide the nation.’’
The VHP spokesperson Surendra Mishra feared that the NCRLM report would initiate a “civil war” in India. “If Ranganath Misra Commission report is accepted, the first consequence will be the development of dissatisfaction, class struggle. It may also lead to a civil war in the country,” Shri Jain said, adding that the report should be thrown into the dustbin. VHP’s International Secretary Dr Pravin Togadia has threatened a nationwide stir opposing any attempt to implement these recommendations. “VHP rejects in toto the Ranganath Commission report because it is unconstitutional, anti-national and anti-Hindu,” Dr Togadia told mediapersons. “Khurshid who had recently called salaries of CEOs as vulgar, has by tabling the Ranganath Commission report has shown the country his ‘constitutional vulgarity’,” he said.
These diagonally opposite reactions notwithstanding, the NCRLM report has evoked divergent responses from its targeted beneficiaries-namely the Muslims and the Christians. The Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) maintained that the Ranganath Misra Commission report would create more problems for the Christian community in India than ameliorating their position. “It is a pill worse than the disease”, said PCLM leaders RL Francis and Joseph G Anthony. “The reservation based on religion is not only unconstitutional, it would also create bad blood between minorities and the Hindu Dalits and OBCs. No sane minority person would like to reduce the reservation pie of the Dalit Hindus and take a slice out of it”, they added. Reservation based on religion would ghettoise the minorities.
Senior columnist Firoz Bakht Ahmed has claimed that the recommendations would not help the Muslims either. Describing reservations as a menace to the entire system, Bakht said that reservations are a thorn in the neck of otherwise secular and composite social fabric of India.
Favouring deletion of words like minority, Bakht said: “As a law-abiding Indian Muslim, I feel that words such as reservation, minority, majority be deleted from the Indian Constitution in the context of quotas based on caste or religion.” He viewed reservations on communal lines as against the national unity and integrity as it might start a chain reaction among other religious groups as well. Quoting from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech in the Constituent Assembly on May 26, 1949, he said that reservations would isolate the minority from the mainstream of national life.
Against the background of these divergent responses the NCRLM report evoked, it would be in the fitness of things to make an honest attempt to analyse the factors, situations and compulsions that prompted the government to appoint such a panel and seek recommendations on this sensitive and controversial issue.
There had been consistent efforts from the Christian and Muslim lobbies to pressurise the Government of India to accord reservation facilities to converted Dalits. Various Christian Church organisations were mounting pressures on the GoI even from the international levels. Acting on the advice of certain Christian Church organisations a writ petition was submitted in the Supreme Court of India by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) challenging the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order of 1950, which excluded the converted Dalits from the benefits of reservation extended to genuine Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu Dalits.
It may be mentioned that the Church organisations had targeted the Dalits in India and converted them to Christianity either by allurement or by coercion. They were also assured equal social status, rights and no discrimination at social level. But the reality has been different. The fact that converted Dalits are being discriminated against by the upper-caste Christians in different parts of the country is well highlighted by many Christian leaders themselves. According to P Yesu Selvaraj, president of Dalit Christian Movement of Tamil Nadu, the Dalit Christians who constitute 60 to 70 per cent of the total are controlled by the handful of ‘upper-caste’ Christians. These ‘non-Dalit’ Christians use every opportunity to exploit these ‘Dalit’ Christians and also sympathise with them by demanding reservation to them at par with their ‘Hindu’ Dalit counterparts.
Dalits Christians are also discriminated against in Church worship and other religious functions. They have either separate churches or are allowed to offer prayers after the ‘non-Dalit’ Christians’ prayers and so on. They are not even provided reservations in jobs in the Church-run institutions!
To divert the attention of the Dalits from this discriminatory attitude and treatment, the Church leaders have been demanding reservation for the converted Dalits since 1936. But the then British government of India strongly rejected this demand and ruled against inclusion of converted Dalits into the list of Scheduled Caste beneficiaries. The Government of India Scheduled Castes Order 1936 was issued under the 1935 Government of India Act. Paragraph 3 of this order issued on April 30, 1936, provides: “No Indian Christian shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste.”
The very basis for inclusion of certain castes in the above mentioned order and subsequently in the Schedule to the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) order 1950, which was based on the earlier order was the traditional practice of untouchability that had plagued the Hindu society for thousands of years resulting in social, educational and economic backwardness of certain castes. “The phenomenon of untouchability in this country is fundamentally of religious and political origin. Untouchability is a part of the Hindu religious system. Thus religion was the basis for inclusion of castes in the list of ‘Scheduled Castes’ in the 1936 and 1950 Orders. In 1956, this Order was amended to bring the Sikh and Buddhist Dalits in the realm of the Scheduled Castes and benefits of reservations were extended to them also.
It is against this background that the Christians and Muslims have been demanding SC status to Dalits converted to their religions. Their main argument in its favour is that such converts continue to face discrimination, disabilities and handicaps and social, educational and economic backwardness as their Hindu counterparts, their conversion notwithstanding. Though Christianity and Islam do not recognise castes and untouchability, they contend that ground reality is totally different, basically, despite conversion, these people continue to be part and parcel of the Indian society which is still largely caste-based. Hence they should also be brought under the realm of reservations at par with their Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist counterparts.
The consequences of extending such reservations to converts are manifold. First, it would amount to formal introduction of caste system in Christianity and Islam thereby changing the very fundamental tenets of these religions. Such a step is outside the jurisdiction of the Parliament or the Supreme Court. Those who professed Christianity or Islam were never treated as Scheduled Castes in the British India. But efforts were made to seek conferment of SC status on such individuals. The National Convention of the Parliamentary Forum of the SC/ST in 1992 also passed a resolution for extending reservation facility to persons of SC origin to Christianity.
Both Islam and Christianity came to India from distant lands. They came along with the invaders, traders, preachers and missionaries hundreds of years ago and converted people either by coercion, allurement or by any other method. The people who professed these religions ruled over the land and people for hundreds of years, and have not given up this intention to establish their rule even now. More conversions mean addition to their strength and once sufficient strength is obtained they can easily go in for establishing their rule, directly or indirectly.
The converts are getting 27 percent reservations as per the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. Therefore, the National Commission on Scheduled Castes (NCSC) had rejected the proposal to include them in the list of the SCs. These reports are still pending with the government. Former Chairman of the Commission Buta Singh had expressed his unwillingness to include the converts in the list of SCs for reservation.
The People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) was the only organisation that raised objections to these clandestine efforts for inclusion of the Christian converts in the SC list and extending reservation facility to them. They intervened in the case pending in Supreme Court; put their views forcefully before the Misra Commission. The PDM has objected strongly to usurp the rights of the Dalits granted to them by the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order of 1950 under pressure from the Christian Church organisations. According to the PDM, the Government of India, NCSC, NCRLM and the Christian Church organisations have conspired against the genuine Dalits, and by advocating reservations for the converted Dalits, the Commission has opened the floodgates for the large-scale conversion of Dalits to these alien religions.
The move to grant reservations to Muslim and Christian Dalits will have political implications also. Such a step is certainly not in the national interest as it will divide the society vertically on the lines of religions and create animosity amongst various sections of the society. The situation akin to that existed prior to the Partition of the country would re-emerge and the consequences would be far more dangerous than that the country had faced in 1947. The country is already facing threats to its security-both internal and external. At such a critical juncture, the recommendations of NCRLM would only add fuel to the fire and push the country on the path of another partition. To save the country from the catastrophe, the NCRLM recommendations should be rejected lock, stock and barrel. That is the only way to save the diverse Indian polity and thwart all the evil designs of the powers that intend to weaken the country and stop it from becoming the world leader-vishwa guru.
1. Report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi.
2. The Indian Church? By Virag Pachpore, Bhaurao Deoras Human Resources Research & Development Institute, Nagpur.
3. People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), Nagpur, press releases, and reports of Aarakshan Bachao Samiti.
4. Swadesh, Bhopal, January 9, 2010: “Ranganath Misra Ayog ki rapat ke khatarnak sanket”, Dr Kuldeep Chand Agnihotri.
(The writer is a senior journalist.)