India’s Supreme Court rules that quotas for ‘privileged’ castes are not unconstitutional

For many Indians, especially Dalits, the ruling is discriminatory. The court sets a 10 per cent quota in government employment and university admissions for people earning less than 800,000 rupees a year. The government followed the policy used for disadvantaged castes, who nevertheless continue to be marginalised, so much so that thousands of Hindu Dalits have converted en masse to Buddhism.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of India ruled that setting a 10 per cent quota for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in the public sector and education does not constitute a danger to the constitution.

The decision has sparked criticism and controversy and is considered by activists, in particular Christian Dalits, a stratagem to favour Hindus and members of Forward Castes (FC).

EWSs include families that fall under the FC category but have an annual income of less than 800,000 rupees (US$ 10,000).

According to one of the two dissenting judges (out of 5), the Court ruling sanctions a “exclusionary and discriminatory principle”.

The Indian constitution reserves 50 per cent of public employment and university quotas for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) as well as Other Backward Classes (OBC).

These categories refer to people from lower castes who nowadays find themselves in a condition of economic and social backwardness due to historical discrimination.

Certain measures were taken in their favour them at the time of Indian independence (1947), while caste divisions were formally abolished a few years later, in 1950.

“Certainly, the economically poor can be helped, but are they the real poor?” wonders Jesuit Father AXJ Bosco, coordinator of the United Front for Dalits Christian Rights, speaking to AsiaNews.

“Dalits[*] are granted quotas on the basis of social backwardness,” yet Christian and Muslim Dalits are still excluded and discriminated against because of their religious affiliation.

According to Professor Satish Despande, who led a study on the socioeconomic conditions of Christian and Muslim Dalits, most of them do not earn an annual income of 200,000 rupees.

“There is no hope of getting SC status for Dalit Christians. Is it a crime or injustice for a Dalit to be Christian. Christianity may be a foreign religion but Dalits are Indian citizens,” said Bipracharan Nayak, an activist from Odisha (Orissa).

India’s central government has justified the exclusion of Christians and Muslims, claiming that Islam and Christianity are “foreign” religions, unlike Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.

In fact, this is discrimination on a religious basis, which is why the Centre for Public Interest Litigation recently filed a petition with the Supreme Court referring to the principles of the Indian constitution.

Some Hindus too are tired of the growing religious polarisation that began in 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power.

Thousands of Hindu Dalits have converted en masse to Buddhism in recent months in protest against abuses and the central government. In early October, 8,000 people converted in New Delhi, Nikkei Asia reported.

This s not the first time that mass conversions have occurred, but the event held in the capital was deemed anti-Hindu by BJP lawmakers.

A minister of the AAM Aadmi Party, Rajendra Pal Gautam, resigned after the Delhi BJP chief urged the capital’s government, which is led by the Aam Aadmi Party, to sack him "for his attempt to stoke community tensions and spread hatred along religious lines within the country".

Some reports indicate that the rise of the BJP has led to an increase in hate crimes against Dalits, whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, six crimes were reported against Dalits every hour in 2021, for a total of 50,900, up from 50,291 in 2020.

(Nirmala Carvalho and Purushottam Nayak contributed to this article).


[*] Dalits were once called untouchables or outcastes.