The Supreme Court has issued notice to the ministry of social justice and empowerment on a petition filed by All India Catholic Union and leading Christian political activist John Dayal challenging the validity of para 3 of Constitution ( SC) order 1950 by which dalit Christians are denied reservation benefits.
P I Jose, the lawyer who appeared for the petitioners told the court that this provision was being misused by Hindu right wing organizations like the RSS and VHP to indulge in Ghar Wapsi, that is re-conversion of Christians and Muslims into Hinduism
“The petition also raises the point that RSS and its affiliates are misusing the delay in not hearing the original 2004 petition on this issue by engaging in Ghar Wapsi etc. and therefore there is a need to hear the matter early, even though the UOI is delaying it by not filing a reply”, said advocate Jose.
As per para 3 of Constitution (scheduled castes) order 1950 which the petition has challenged, “no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste”. The court issued notice and directed it to be taged with Writ Petition no. 180/2004 (the old matter).
Expressing concern over ‘Ghar Wapsi’or the re-conversion programme indulged in by Hindu right wing outfits, they moved a fresh petition for scrapping of the clause.
A plea with a similar demand filed in 2004 is pending before the court but it could not decide on it as the Centre is yet to file a response. Dayal and the Christian body argued that bodies like the RSS and VHP are capitalizing on the delay by luring dalit Christians to re-convert by promising them Scheduled Caste rights and other incentives.
Admitting the petition, a bench of chief justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud issued notice to the Social Justice Ministry seeking their response.
Dayal and the Christian body wants that the rule should exclude “those Christians of scheduled caste origin who only practice Christianity and do not profess against any other religion being practiced by Indians as a way of life /Dharma”.
“It is important to mention that on the one hand the poor Christians of Dalit origin are deprived of their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of faith and worship, on the other hand large groups of politically and institutionally patronised narrow fundamentalist religious bigots openly come out with violent intimidatory programs like “Ghar Wapsi” and other like programs depriving the poor Christians of Scheduled caste origin their basic human rights of peaceful living (Article 21)”, said the petition.
“The intimidatory tactics adopted by such groups for bullying need not be narrated herein as the impact of such occurrences are so frequent and public for the last several years and may be taken judicial note off”, the Christian body and Dayal told the court.
In February 2015, the Supreme Court, citing the law had held in a case that a Dalit Christian or Muslim converting to Hinduism will be entitled to reservation benefits as long as it can be proved that his forefathers belonged to a caste categorised as a scheduled caste.
The Christian community had then said that the judgement seemed 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."
“Para 3 of the Constitution (SC) Order 1950 amounts to the State identifying with or adopting the Hindu religion and through the amendments thereon unduly favoured it to propagate Hindu religion.
“Because the advantage of gaining, or the disadvantage of losing, the benefits specially provided to members of a Scheduled Caste through various reservation and other laws / policies of the Government to a Christian of SC origin upon ‘Ghar Vapasi’ or to a Hindu of SC origin upon deciding to profess Christian religion, respectively, under the 1950 (SC) Order by itself is not only discrimination but also amounts to granting of a special privilege by the State to the preferred Hindu religion. This is clearly violative of the basic structure of the Constitution, its Secular character as well as the equality provisions”, the petition said.
“Because it is not in the larger interest of the Nation and its people to permit the State to indulge in a tacit or open identification with a religion, if not adoption and any such law is violative of the basic structure of the Constitution”, it said.