10/18/2023, 17.56
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Scholarship programme for Dalit converts sparks controversy in Tamil Nadu

by Nirmala Carvalho

The issue is linked to education support for “Untouchables” whose families embraced Christianity. For the leader of the Ambedkar Makkal Iyakkam group, extending the programme would be "illegal" and limits must be imposed. For a CBCI official, it would acknowledge past discrimination.


Delhi (AsiaNews) – Controversy rages in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu over the decision to grant scholarships to Dalit students converts to Christianity as part of an education programme in favour of Other Backward Classes (OBCs), who have traditionally been excluded under India’s complex caste system.

Ilamurugu Muthu, president of the Ambedkar Makkal Iyakkam (Ambedkar People Movement, AMI), recently presented a petition to Tamil Nadu’s Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Minister N Kayalvizhi Selvaraj asking that the state government not extend the benefits granted to Dalits to other backward classes (OBC).

AMI is a political movement based in Tamil Nadu, promoting Dalit education, rights, and empowerment. Dalits were once referred to as “untouchables”.

"The state government is implementing the post-matric scholarship scheme for Scheduled Caste students but has included Dalit Christian converts in the scholarship scheme. 20.01 per cent of funds is allotted for Dalit students and it is not meant for OBCs. Spending funds allotted for Dalits on OBCs is illegal,” Ilamurugu told The Times of India.

He went on to explain that when Dalits convert to Christianity, they become OBCs and have a 30 per cent reservation. “If they are extended the benefits under post-matric scholarship scheme, they have chances of availing benefits under the OBC reservation too and so the state government should strictly restrict the benefits only to SC students,” Ilamurugu explained.

Dalits get reservation “because of the many years of social discrimination they faced, which made them lag behind in development”, said Fr Devasagaya Raj, former secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) Office for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Backward Classes (Dalits and others), speaking to AsiaNews.

Because of their past, Dalit Christians are demanding SC status in order to obtain some social justice. “Many researchers and commissions appointed by the government say that Dalit Christians lag behind in development and face the stigma of untouchability.”

This is also “why Dalit Christians demand SC status from the government” while the “CWP 180/2004 is still pending in the Supreme Court.”

“Tamil Nadu is leading in rendering social justice to the people and that is why it is giving 69 per cent reservation to socially disadvantaged groups,” Fr Raj added.

State scholarships given to Dalit Christians "are less than the amount other Dalits get"; yet, the latter unduly fear "that Dalit Christians will share their cake. But most of the funds allotted for Dalits are sent to the Treasury. In no way will this affect those who are already enjoying benefits."

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