Indian activists hold placards during a demonstration condemning the decision of various Bharatiya Janata Party-led state governments in the country for passing laws against the so-called ‘Love Jihad,’ in Bangalore on Dec. 1, 2020. (Photo: AFP)
The fate of the 70-year-old struggle of India’s converts from its erstwhile “untouchable” castes in the Hindu hierarchy may well be in the hands of a former chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan while in office had asked Church leaders if they were willing to say on oath that they exercised caste discrimination in their congregations. There was silence in the courtroom.
He was at that time hearing appeals against Article 341 Part 3 which assures affirmative action including scholarships, jobs and political representation to this group of citizens as long as they remain Hindu. If they convert to Christianity or Islam, they lose the benefits.
The converts may also be jailed if the government discovers that they had studied in Church schools on scholarships given to Christian students.
Justice Balakrishnan was the first Dalit, as the former untouchable castes now call themselves, to become the chief justice of India. His elevation was the direct result of a question raised by former President K R Narayanan, the first Dalit to hold such a high office, on why people oppressed for 3,000 years in India’s ancient religious social governance system, could not occupy high statutory offices.
Dalits who embraced other religions were denied the benefits of affirmative action by presidential order in 1950, which later became Article 341(3), due to pressure from Hindu upper castes that feared a large-scale exodus of Dalits to Islam or Christianity.
Ironically, six years after helping create India’s secular Constitution, Dalit icon Dr. B. R. Ambedkar led half a million Dalits into renouncing Hinduism and joining a reformed Buddhism in the city of Nagpur in 1956.
Nagpur is the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the militant Hindu majoritarian organization, seeking to create a Hindu nation, which will disenfranchise Christians and Muslims.
The constitution was later changed to ensure that Buddhists and Sikhs, defined as Indic religions because they were founded in this land, get the scheduled benefits given to Hindu Dalits.
Justice Balakrishnan was recently named by the Narendra Modi government to head a committee set up to examine the issue of caste transcending religion once again.
An earlier commission, headed by another former Chief Justice Ranganath Misra had found that caste and caste discrimination indeed transcended religion and that Dalit Christians and Muslims must get the same benefits as given to their Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist brethren.
The Congress government of the time did not respond to the Supreme Court notices. The RSS-affiliated ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is more categorical in rejecting any privilege for Dalit Christians and Muslims.
This story was originally published in ucanews.com . Read the full story here