A southern state in India has adopted a resolution that will allow Dalit Christians to be included in the Schedule Caste list for education and jobs.
The Dalits, or lower caste Hindus, have been facing discrimination for centuries. To escape discrimination, some have converted to Christianity and Islam, but they are denied Schedule Caste status for having changed their religion.
Even Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy noted that the Dalits’ social and economic conditions did not change just because they changed their religion.
The Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly passed a resolution supporting the inclusion of Dalit Christians in the Schedule Castes list and resolved to request the federal government to amend the Constitution so that they can enjoy equal political rights and socio-economic and educational benefits as all other Scheduled Castes.
State Minister D Manikya Varaprasad said it was up to Parliament to amend the Constitution as the state Legislative Assembly could only pass a resolution.
All parties except the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party BJP and the Lok Satta Party supported the resolution.
BJP member G Kishan Reddy, however, said the resolution would encourage proselytization.
Lok Satta Party’s Jayaprakash Narayan said the Supreme Court had earlier passed orders opposing such a status to converts.
However, Christian leaders welcomed the move.
Michael V Williams, head of the United Christian Forum, a persecution watchdog, said it “is very good news.”
It will “provide impetus” to the issue now pending in the Supreme Court, he said.
Williams said that even if the federal government does not ratify the idea, the state has its own set of schemes for Schedule Castes that the converted Christians will be able to enjoy.
“If neighboring state Odisha and others also follow suit, it would be fantastic for the just cause,” Williams said.
Father T Anthoni Raj, executive secretary of the state federation of churches, said the proposal will meet the long-pending demand of the community.
John Dayal, veteran journalist and rights activist, however, said “the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 and consequent amendment of Article 341 – part iii on Schedule Caste means only the Supreme Court or Parliament can change it.”
The amendment states that 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.
“Our writs are before the Supreme Court at present,” Dayal said.
The federal government has opposed the inclusion of Christians and Muslims in the Schedule Caste list in the top court, but has set up a three-member Commission of Inquiry to look into the demand.