THESE days there is lot of discussion about the Ranganath Misra Commission Report. It has been tabled in both the Houses of Parliament whereby it was proposed that the dalits converted to Christian and Muslim communities be given reservation on the basis of Scheduled Castes. Those who are aware know that in the beginning the objective of the Commission was to identify and inform the Government about the plight of the socially and economically backward linguistic and religious minorities and to suggest measures to improve their condition in accordance with the existing legal and constitutional measures in force. The Ranganath Misra Commission was constituted by the Central Government on October 29, 2004, but after five months, the Government added the Terms of Reference of the Commission citing the Presidential Order of 1950 so as to empower the Commission to look into the question whether the Dalits who had converted to Islam and Christianity be accorded the status of Scheduled Castes? The said question became the main agenda of the Commission.
In our country, the benefits of reservations are only provided to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Classes and weaker section. The genesis of the present “reservation” for Schedule Castes arises as a result of the famous Pune Pact between Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar. Interestingly in the Government of India Act , 1935 the definition of Schedule Castes clearly excluded Indian Christians and defined them separately as an independent group. The Constitution thereafter provided reservation to the Scheduled Castes, in legislatures, government services, education and social welfare schemes as part of the affirmative action of the state.
What is overlooked is that Christian and Muslim converts already enjoy the benefit of reservation under the category of Other Backward Classes (OBC) as well as the special rights accorded to religious minorities under the Constitution. This question was raised before the Mandal Commission, which bypassed the question on the ground that caste was a part of Hindu religion and since the classification of “other backward classes” was not ‘only’ caste based, such converts could be included in the OBC list , which they were and which they continue to remain till this date.
The Ranganath Commission has proposed that the status of Scheduled Tribes be given to all minority communities living in Scheduled Tribe areas prior to 1947 without taking into consideration their ethnic character. This proposal of the Commission which has been given without considering the social, cultural and economic background as well as aspirations of the country’s nine crore Scheduled Tribes, is clearly unconstitutional. What the Commission disregards is that for the inclusion of any community in the list of Scheduled Tribes, there is a set procedure which needs to be adhered to. This proposal of the Commission conveniently side-steps this procedure. When the question of determination of Scheduled Tribes was not within the ambit of the Terms of Reference of the Commission, it clearly exposes the apparent and hidden intentions and objectives of the Commission to encourage the creation of minority voting blocks for the present Government.
There were little expectations from the Commission. What was expected that at least the Commission would follow the law and have a procedure which would at least seem fair to all groups who could fall within its ambit. However this Commission has neither held consultations with the minority Hindu Community in Jammu & Kashmir nor held consultations with the minority groups in various North-eastern states. The Commission has not even bothered to take the pain of consulting any Sikh religious institution or leader. This behaviour of the Commission shows that instead of highlighting the plight of religious minorities, it is more interested in the vote-bank politics. Moreso since any one with even a small idea of constitutional law knows that classification of religious minorities is state based.
Interestingly, the data of this Commission has been obtained from a Delhi-based NGO by the name of Center for Research Planning and Action. This particular NGO has only surveyed five states out of a possible 28 states. The states surveyed by the NGO are Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. It is stunning that such huge conclusions are drawn and recommendations made which, if implemented, would impact the future of India for long time to come, based on a rudimentary and incomplete survey, even by the admission of the NGO conducting the said survey.
The Commission in its high handedness and in its hurry failed to hold any deliberation with the political parties nor has it sought the opinion of the various constitutional bodies such as the Scheduled Caste Commission, Backward Classes Commission, Women’s Commission, etc.
The Report discloses that a majority of the states do not support the proposal of the Commission for the inclusion of dalit Christians and Muslims within the ambit of Scheduled Castes. The Commission has sought the views of the various states regarding this question and a majority of these states have expressed their views against this proposal. The interesting thing to note is that even states where Christians and Muslims are in majority have not given their whole-hearted support to this proposal of the Commission. The attempt of the Commission to recommend the inclusion of converted Christians and Muslims under the category of Scheduled Castes therefore clearly is in teeth of opinion of most of the people and groups that it consulted. The attempt therefore to air brush this opposition is even more surprising.
In our country to curb the menace of untouchability and improve the plight of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the Parliament has enacted the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The Commission in its report has acknowledged that under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, every citizen is entitled to legal protection against the scourge of untouchability. The Commission has acknowledged that in the report of the Ministry of Social Welfare, complaints against untouchability related offences are on the decline under the Protection of Civil Rights Act. When apparently complaints against untouchability are not related to these minority groups, then what is the reason behind the proposal of this Commission to include these minority groups within the ambit of Scheduled Castes? There is not a single case which has been illustrated by this Commission to prove that the members of the Muslim and Christian communities are being subjected to untouchability as is the case with Scheduled Castes. Then why should these minority groups be accorded the status of Scheduled Castes?
The statistics being illustrated by the Commission show that the condition of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes are much worse in comparison to religious minorities. A cursory look at the statistics quoted by the Commission shows that even in primary education, Muslims fare much better as compared to the Scheduled Castes. In case of nutritional levels, drinking water, literacy, the state of Scheduled Castes is much worse than that of religious minorities. The moot question which then arises in the present case is that when the Commission itself believes in these statistics then what is the need for the inclusion of converts in the list of Scheduled Castes?
The most rational part of the entire report is the dissent of its Member Secretary, Asha Das who raises a question which the Commission avoids in ever addressing that is “If religions which in terms of their religious tenets do not recognise caste, how can the state impose the caste system on them, and, if the state does so, would it not be a violation of the secularism which is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The other question raised by the Member Secretary regarding the incongruity in fixing a cut off date for recognition of religious minorities and thereby creating classification of religious minorities based on dates of conversion has also not been addressed by the Commission, which was apparently working with a single point agenda to create vote banks for the ruling party. The Commission fails to recognise that in case there is discrimination within the Christianity based on social hierarchy then it is the obligation of the leaders of the faith to alleviate such problems.
It is sad that the persons for whom the reservations are directed, the Scheduled Castes, themselves, and whose feelings are clearly against reduction of their entitlement by inclusion of religious minorities are neither heard nor consulted in the entire process whereby their representation and empowerment is going to be reduced. This clearly shows that in spite of the purported love for dalits that this government professes it has no actual intention of consulting them on important decisions about their future.
It is, therefore, time for us as all rational and conscientious citizens of the country to come forward and raise our voices jointly against the clear attempted subversion of our Constitutional ideals by vested political interests, whose only agenda is the creation of voting blocks to perpetuate their rule. If we do not, then our future generations will not forgive us.
(The writer is national secretary of BJP and an advocate of the Supreme Court. He can be contacted at [email protected])