THE Ranganath Misra Report is not unanimous. The report recommends, amongst other things, 15 per cent reservation to minorities in education, Central and State Government jobs and social welfare schemes in the OBC quota. Out of 15 per cent, the report recommends 10 per cent to Muslims and remaining 5 per cent to other minorities. It also recommends the inclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the list of Scheduled Castes. However, Smt Asha Das, its Member Secretary has submitted her dissenting opinion opposing the inclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the category of Scheduled Castes.
At present all minorities including the so called Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians are entitled to reservation of 8.4 per cent out of 27 per cent reservation meant for OBC. If the reservation percentage for minorities is increased from 8.4 per cent to 15 per cent, then the share for OBC will be reduced to 12 per cent only, thus causing injustice, humiliation and social disharmony to OBC, whose population is estimated at 52 per cent as per the Mandal Commission Report.
The reservation percentage based on population is permissible under the Constitution only to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (15 per cent and 7.5 per cent respectively) and to no other section of the society.
It may be difficult to fault the rationale adopted during British rule, and continued after Independence, behind identification of depressed classes/scheduled castes on the basis of untouchability related disabilities which were peculiar to the Hindu society, arising from a highly rigid caste system. The Scheduled Castes Order of 1936 was based on “caste” and its application to the Hindu religion is apparent from the fact that paragraph 3 of the Order issued on April 30, 1936 provides clearly that “No Indian Christian shall be deemed to be member of a Scheduled Caste”. The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 was based on the Constitution (SC) Order of 1936 and adopted the same criteria for identification of castes i.e. practices and prejudices arising from untouchability that had plagued Hindu society for centuries and had resulted in the social, educational and economic backwardness of the castes enlisted. The 1956 and 1990 amendments to the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 have been justified on the ground that the Sikh and the Buddhist religions were primarily home-grown sects within the Hindu religion rather than being independent religions in the nature of Christianity or Islam . Besides they draw support form explanation II below Article 25 of the Constitution which provides that reference to Hindu in Sub-clause (b) of clause (2) of Article 25 shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion.
The Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order 1950 enlist those castes, identified on the criteria of extreme form of social, economic and educational backwardness arising due to age-old practice of untouchability because of caste system, an inherent feature of Hindus social structure. This is in conformity with the Provisions of Article 341 of the Constitution. This also get support from the debated in the Constituent Assembly which recognised that “the Scheduled Castes were a backward section of the society, handicapped by the practice of untouchability and that this evil practice of untouchability was not recognised by any other religion”. The observation of the Commission that the caste system in India prevails in all religions irrespective of the Islam and Christianity claiming otherwise. This view, being illogical, is unacceptable. These two religions proclaim their social structure free from caste system, untouchability and caste-based discrimination. The Ranganath Misra Commission cannot dictate or thrust its opinion on the Christian Popes or Muslim Maulavis.
If the Government decides to grant Scheduled Caste status to the converts, it will amount to formal introduction of caste system in Islam/Christianity and thus changing the basic tenets of these religions, which is outside the jurisdiction of both the Parliament and the Judiciary and also contrary to the provisions of Quran and Bible. According to the Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) and Indian Christian Righteous Action Forum (ICRA) leaders Shri RL Francis and Shri Joseph G Anthony the report is a “Pill worst than disease” and the reservation based on religion is not only unconstitutional, it would also create bad blood between minorities and the Hindu Dalits and OBCs. They further added that “PCLM and ICRA Forum, an independent body of Christians, opposes the Ranganath Misra Report and have urged the Government of Dr Manmohan Singh to ignore its recommendations.
Even though those who profess Christianity or Islam were never treated as Scheduled Castes in British India or in India after Independence, efforts have been made from time to time to seek conferment of Scheduled Caste status on persons of Scheduled Caste origin professing Christianity. Private Members Bill had been moved more than once. The National Convention of the Parliamentary Forum of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes in 1992 also passed a resolution for extending reservation facility to persons of Scheduled Caste origin to Christianity. The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 (Amendment Bill) was also prepared in 1996 though never introduced. The views of the various Central Ministers/Departments and State Governments were obtained in this regard. They drew attention to the debate of the Constituent Assembly and pointed out the difficulty for determining the precise number of persons who would be covered. The absence of any suggestion on the cut-off date for determining who would benefit was also pointed out. It was also mentioned by several states and commissions that there was no justification for including Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity in the list of Scheduled Castes. There would be enormous difficulty in identification of the original cast in the absence of authentic records.
There is a ceiling on the reservation percentage fixed by the Supreme Court at 50 per cent. The reservation percentage at national level has been earmarked, on the basis of 1961 census, 15 per cent to the Scheduled Castes 7.5 per to the Scheduled Tribes and 27 per cent to the OBC. The total comes to 49.5 per cent which is nearer to 50 per cent. Those who plead reservation to the converts outside 15 per cent quota meant for the Scheduled Castes, are not possibly aware of the 50 per cent ceiling.
(The author is a former Rajya Sabha MP and a Supreme Court Lawyer.)