Christian leaders have strongly condemned a comment allegedly made by Social Justice Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot, who allegedly said Schedule Caste status will not be extended to Dalit Christians and Muslims. They said it goes against the "tenets of the constitution".
Various commissions and committees set up by the government have recommended extending the SC status to all Dalits irrespective of their religious affiliations. Setting aside recommendations of the Ranganath Mishra Commission and the Sachar Committee for reservation to Dalits of Christian and Muslim minority communities, he told a gathering at a Hindu leadership conclave here that there is no provision in the Constitution to grant reservation to Dalits who convert to other religions.
"We won't accord Scheduled Caste status to those who have converted. We are following the Constitution in letter and spirit," Gehlot said at the function, organised by the Hindu Aikya Vedi, a Sangh Parivar outfit in Kerala on 15th February 2016.
"Granting Scheduled Caste status to those belonging to minority communities will encourage conversion and weaken the Hindu religion. There is also no such provision in the Constitution," Gehlot observed.
To voice their strong protest against the minister, the Christian leaders held a press conference at Catholic Bishop Conference Office near Gole Dakkana in Central Delhi Wednesday and said such comment is "deplorable".
"We strongly condemn Hon'ble Thawar Chand Gehlot, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment for his offensive statement denying equality and justice to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in Kerala on February 15, 2016. The minister has made a sinister statement that goes against the fundamental tenets of the Constitution," said Fr. A.X.J. Bosco, Advisor of National Council of Dalit Christians in a press conference held at the conference hall of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) office on Wednesday.
"It is not the Indian Constitution, but it is the Presidential Oder 1950, paragraph 3 that discriminate the Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste origin. We urge the Minister to speak inclusive language. His remarks smack of divisive language and divises the Dalit community on the basis of religion," the press handout stated.
The Christian leaders also informed the press that they plan to protest on March 10, denouncing the minister's comment as "unconstitutional" but they have been denied by the police as they plan to march from Ramlila Ground to the Parliament. "We were not given the permission to protest. This is very unfortunate," said Samuel Jayakumar, general secretary of National Council of Churches in India.
However, the Christian leaders said they will hold a silent sit-in protest the following day at Jantar Mantar and they called for an end of discrimination of Dalits based on religion.
"The Constitution speaks about the equal treatment of all religious communities, along with freedom of religion and conscience (Article 25). Granting Schedule Caste status to Sikhs and Buddhists of Scheduled Caste origin has not weakened Hindu religion or encouraged conversions to those religions. How can the minister come to the conclusion that it would encourage conversions?" asked Fr. Devasagayaraj.
The Constitution extended Scheduled Caste (SC) status to Dalits for their socio-economic development but unfortunately the Presidential Order 1950 paragraph 3 restricted the SC status to Dalit Hindus only. Later on, Sikhs and Buddhists were included in the amendment but the same is not extended to Christians, Muslims, Parsis and Jains.
The Christian leaders also appealed to the Prime Minister not just to "give verbal assurances and empty promises, but to act concretely in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution. Prime Minister rightly said, 'India first' is the only religion and Constitution is its only Holy Book,' meaning that he is committed to working for all sections of the people irrespective of religious affiliations," quoting PM Modi's speech on November 27, 2015.
"Prime Minister Modi must quarantee equality to all citizens, he must see that the majority does not force its will on minority communities to exclude and marginalize them which will impede the development of the nation," they said.
The Christian leaders also urged the Social Justice minister to speak inclusive language that encourages unity of the country and enhances the democratic process envisioned by the Constitution of India.