New Delhi: The ruling of a Supreme Court bench that a Dalit or tribal re-converting to Hinduism from Christianity would be entitled to reservation benefits for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has elicited sharp opinion across religious communities. While human rights lawyers, activists and leaders of the Christian community have termed it ‘disappointing and unfortunate’, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad describes the ruling as an “approval” for its controversial ghar wapsi programme.
The bench held that a person shall not be deprived of quota benefits if he or she decides to “reconvert” to Hinduism and adopts the caste of his forefathers just because he has a Christian spouse or was born to Christian parents. It further held that “There has been detailed study to indicate that the Scheduled Caste persons belonging to Hindu religion, who had embraced Christianity with some kind of hope or aspiration, have remained socially, educationally and economically backward.”
“I am taken aback by the verdict as it has opened the door for a particular ideology to impose its agenda,” Supreme Court lawyer Rebecca Mammen John told Firstpost.
Suggesting the judiciary to be more careful while pronouncing judgement on controversial issues, she said, "Given the kind of politics being practiced these days in the country, the judiciary should be circumspect before such rulings."
Briefly outlining the verdict, advocate Nitya Ramachandran, senior lawyer at the apex court, said, "The SC verdict has certified the fact that class and caste bias persist even after the conversion. All religious communities should seriously think over it to make the society free from all kind of discrimination."
Asked if it will encourage right wing forces to go on rampage in the name of alleged forced conversion, she said, "Instead of doing so and considering the verdict as an approval of hate mongering programme, they (hardliner Hindutva groups) should feel ashamed that a section of their community is embracing other religion because of deep rooted discrimination."
The VHP claimed the verdict “legitimised and stamped” their ‘Ghar Wapsi’ programme. "Pseudo secularists who were objecting to our campaign should now change their minds and start supporting us if they have faith in the judicial system of the country," VHP national joint secretary Surendra Jain told Firstpost.
He also had answer to advocate Nitya’s suggestion. "If there is a problem in the Hindu community, its solution lies also within the community. Those who converted to Christianity are facing worst discrimination. Dalit Christians are not free to offer prayers in any church they want. They have separate churches and graveyards. They are fed up and want to return the Hindu fold. If we are facilitating their homecoming, what is wrong in this," he added.
Responding to the verdict, John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council and member of National Integration Council, said, "Christian and Muslim communities cannot but be very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s two recent judgements — the one yesterday granting Scheduled Caste rights to Muslim and Dalit Christians who convert to Hinduism and the earlier one which referred to a Constitutional bench the demand that this group be given Scheduled Caste rights because they continue to suffer the infirmities and indignities in Indian society. The judgement also seems to legitimise ‘Ghar Wapsi’, while making it prohibitive and punitive for any Dalit to exercise his or her freedom of faith and convert to Islam or Christianity. Conversions to Buddhism and Sikhism do not invite this punishment."
He said the entire question of caste and religion needs to be decided by a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court once and for all. "How can one religion be called a ‘Way of Life’ and not a religion, as in the Justice JS Verma ruling, and yet conversions to or from it invite such contradictory results. Leaving Hinduism means losing all rights, including reserved seats to legislatures and parliamentarians apart from quotas in jobs and education," he observed.
Dalit Christians and Muslims had challenged this in a PIL before the apex court. That Article 341 [iii], which brought this about, was unconstitutional, he said.
The court has acknowledged there has been detailed study to indicate the Scheduled Caste persons belonging to Hindu religion, who had embraced Christianity with some kind of hope or aspiration, have remained socially, educationally and economically backward. “But the implication seems to be that this is a failure of the church to lift the status of such people, and not what several national commissions have found that it is inherent in the Indian social milieu,” he concluded.
Describing the SC verdict “unfortunate” in the sense that it “gives reservation benefits to only those who re-convert, not those who converted because of atrocities in Hinduism”, Samar Anarya of Asian Human Rights Commission said, “We demand reservation benefits to all Dalits irrespective of their religion.”
Updated Date: Feb 28, 2015 08:30 AM