The big question: Can Muslims and Christians claim SC status? Let’s find out!

To understand what the law says, one needs to first understand what the Kerala HC had said about Raja election from Devikulam Assembly constituency located in Idukki district. The court declared the election of CPI(M) legislator, A. Raja, as null and void. The court held that as a baptized Christian, he was not eligible to contest for a seat reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) members.

Facts of the case

D. Kumar, the petitioner, had challenged Raja’s election in 2020 on the ground that the constituency in which the election was to be held was actually reserved for the Scheduled Caste of the Devotees Hindu. According to Kumar, the latter do not belong to the Scheduled Caste of the Hindus in Kerala. A. Raja was truly a Christian. According to the petition, this is a clear violation of Section 5 of the People’s Representation Act, 1951.

D. Kumar lost to A. Raja in the 2021 elections. Kumar’s plea alleged that Raja was a baptized Christian and could not be considered a part of the Scheduled Caste community after he changed his religion.

Over the years, courts have discussed and deliberated on the question whether SC status can include Muslims and Dalit Christians.

What does the Center say about this issue?

Last year, in November, the Supreme Court had considered this issue in the Center for Public Interest Litigation case and another Union of India case. The Central Government submitted in the case that the Constitution (Provisioned Caste) of 1950 thus challenged in this case was indeed based on historical data. Historical data shows “no oppression or backwardness ever faced by members of the Christian or Muslim Association.”

The Center has also filed an affidavit claiming that Dalits converted to Christianity or Islam because they wanted to escape oppressive systems like untouchability in Hinduism. This clearly implies that such systems of oppression are not common in Christianity or Islam.

To support its argument, the Center has issued a note opposing the report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities. It claims that both Christianity and Islam are foreign religions. These religions do not recognize the case system. In a way, giving SC status to converts will also introduce caste system in these religions.

On October 7, 2022, the Center constituted a three-member committee. The committee is headed by former Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan.

Constitution (Scheduled Castes), 1950

In 1950, the Scheduled Castes were born while the Constitution was being framed. The Constitution (scheduled castes) Order issued under Article 31 of the Constitution speaks of the fact that the President may notify and designate “castes, races or tribes or sections or groups within castes, races or tribes, shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Castes”, in respect of any State or UT.

The original order was passed in 1950. It allowed only Hindus under the aegis of the SC. However, gradually, the situation changed and it was amended to incorporate Sikhs in 1956, and then Buddhists in 1990, due to immense political pressure. Despite all these amendments, there is no provision for incorporating backward communities within Muslims and Christians as defined by the SC.

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