India: Parliament set to discuss proposed equal rights for Dalit Christians, Muslims
by Ajaya Kumar Singh
The National Commission on Religious and Linguistic Minorities has submitted to the Lok Sabha the proposed amendment of the law which for 59 years divides Dalits according to their religious affiliation. Is the first time that the issue is discussed by the parliament in New Delhi.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The parliament in New Delhi is set to discuss for the first time in its history the application for recognition to Dalit Christians and Muslims the same rights now granted only to Dalit Hindus and Buddhists.   On 18 December, the National Commission on Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Ncrlm) presented to the Lok Sabha the proposal to change the law which for 59 years justifies the discrimination of Dalits according to their religious affiliation.

The report produced by Rangnath Mishra, former Chief Justice, "suggests that paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950 - originally limited to Hindu Dalits, later extended to Sikh and Buddhist, but still excludes Muslims , Christians, Jains, Parsis, etc.. - Should be completely removed with an appropriate action so as to completely decouple the status of Dalits from religion and make the social grouping of the  Scheduled Castes completely neutral regarding religious denomination as well as for the Scheduled Tribes "(see Volume I of the Report of Ncrlm) .  

The Ncrlm report hopes the launch of a new law will provide for all the Dalit a guaranteed quota in the civil and political employment and representation. The debate remains regarding the position of Dalit Hindus converted to Islam and Christianity. For Asha Das, a member of the secretariat of the Commission, they should be accorded the status of Other Backward Class and not Scheduled Castes. 

The Ncrlm states that the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order goes against Articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution. The problem raised by the Rangnath report has already been addressed in the past by the Supreme Court which called for a revision of the law. In 2000 the parliaments of the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh passed laws for the equal treatment of all Dalits. But the issue had never come up to the Lok Sabha. And this despite the promises of the various successive premiers and governments and protests at national and local levels by Dalit Muslims and Christians.  

The arrival of the Ncrlm report to the  Lok Sabha comes after yet another series of actions taken by the Dalit Christians and Muslims for the recognition of their rights (see AsiaNews, 18/11/2009, " Thousands of Christian and Muslim Dalits march against discrimination ") and the following counter-demonstrations launched by Dalit Hindus along with the politicians of the Bharatiya Janata Party (see AsiaNews, 20/11/2009," Hindu nationalist BJP against equal rights for Christian and Muslim Dalits").