Remove Muslims, Xians from ST list: RSS affiliate

By Vasudha Venugopal / Economic Times

Ahead of a nationwide Census exercise that could bring out the exact numbers of SC/STs in the country, an RSS backed body, Janjati Suraksha Manch, is planning to intensify its agitation to delist tribals who have undergone religious conversions from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status that entitles them to reservation in jobs, education, and legislative bodies.

Interestingly, the body is pushing a demand first raised by Congress MP Karthik Oraon in the sixties who had flagged the issue claiming that ST converts were getting a major chunk of reservation benefits. After this, a joint parliamentary committee was formed in 1968 to examine the issue.

“A section of people, who have adopted other religions, are getting double benefits. They put their children in Christian schools taking benefit as a minority but take up jobs meant for STs. They are taking away the rights of tribals who are working hard to keep their traditions alive,” Sharad Chavan of the Manch said. He said the outfit has already organised 171 rallies in 273 SC/ST dominated districts and reached out to 451 MPs from different parties to garner support.

Next month, the manch is planning to organise at least four rallies in ST dominated Narmada, Valsad and Bharuch districts of Gujarat, and 11 more in Jharkhand and 13 in Chhattisgarh, apart from reaching out to at least 3,000 MLAs and MLCs across the country. MP from Ratlam-Jhabua constituency in Madhya Pradesh, Guman Singh Damor and MP from Bharuch constituency, Mansukhbhai Vasava, have supported the move, and called for organising “delisting” rallies seeking that tribals who convert to any other religion must not be given reservations mandated for Scheduled Tribes.

There have however been counter rallies by many other tribal outfits who have accused the RSS of ‘hinduising’ the STs.

The Jan Jagran programmes and the demand for delisting have also gathered steam, as in the last Census held in 2011, 82 minor local religious faiths had identified themselves under the head “Other Religions and Persuasion” (ORP) in India, a category separate from the six religions of India — Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain.

The RSS, through the rallies, is also seeking to dilute the demand for a separate identity made by many ST groups, those who identify as ORP to be eventually converted to Christianity. Additionally, there were also 79 lakh individuals who had identified themselves as ORP, a number that increased from 42 lakh in 1991. The number of ORPs increasing in the nineties has featured in many top RSS meetings too as “a matter of serious concern to the Hindu society.”

Ravi Bhagat, national secretary of the BJP youth wing BJYM and also spearheading the movement said with awareness, the rallies were gaining support of the STs who have not received benefits. “We have data of not just how this is being misused by many, but also how the original STs have not received the benefits intended for them, mainly by giving out wrong details in the forms.”

He added that the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and other outfits of the Sangh Parivar will go to the Gram Sabhas to generate ‘Jan Jagran’ (realisation) on this issue. “Everyone knows in a village who is applying for benefits as STs despite going to church every Sunday,” he said.

An expert on ST matters, Balram Oraon, said it will be useful to collect disaggregated caste data and that sub-quotas based on socio-economic surverys can be a positive step, specifically as reservation cannot be granted on religious grounds, legally.

“But there is also a strong resurgence among indigenous tribal faith believers, and the demand for a separate religion code has been gaining momentum again, which has alerted the Hindu groups. Under British rule, there was a separate ‘Tribal Religion’ code that adivasis classify themselves as. This was part of the 1951-52 census but was abolished thereafter. ST parliamentarians remained hostile to this issue raging since the sixties because there are political implications to it. There are also studies to show the discrimination faced by ST converts is often not considered by the groups seeking to delist them.”

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