07/23/2007, 00.00
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National commission says Christian and Muslim Dalits must have same rights as Hindu Dalits

Commission chairman Buta makes pledge during meeting with representatives of 16 million Christian Dalits. Currently, law only recognises Hindu, Buddhist and Sikhs Dalits.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Any member of a scheduled caste irrespective of his or her religion should enjoy the same rights. Such rights should not be restricted to Hindus, said Buta Singh, chairman of the National Scheduled Caste Commission (NSCC), during a meeting with Christian leaders.

The current law limits Scheduled Caste status to Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits and excludes Christian converts and Muslims.

For some time the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) has argued that since all Dalits are victims of the same social discrimination whatever their faith, the 1950 law, which does not include Christian and Muslim Dalits, should be changed.

The Indian Supreme Court has also become involved, asking the government to state its position. The government has in turn asked the NSCC for its opinion.

Mr Buta yesterday pledged that the Commission would submit a report shortly. But he also called on the government to raise the present quota for scheduled castes and tribes, which are 15 and 7.15 per cent respectively, to their actual size based on census data. Christian Dalits could thus fall under other backward castes.

John Dayal, chairman of the All India Catholic Union, handed Buta a memorandum on behalf of 16 million Christian Dalits, asking the Commission to back the NCRLM and thus acknowledge that discrimination and poverty continue after conversion.

“The constitution’s secularism means the state accords . . . equal respect for all religions and . . . keeping equal distance from all religions,” he said.

In practice however Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs are favoured. The 1950 law was in fact extended in 1956 to include Sikhs and in 1990 to include Buddhists. Muslim and Christian Dalits are instead still excluded even though they are “native, indigenous pre-Aryan.”

For Dayal it is a “historic injustice” that must be reversed. 

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