Dalits by definition or by religion?

Hindus stand united on the debate over SC reservations as Dalit Muslims, Christians seek a share of pie, too.

Priyanka P. Narain

Muslim and Christian leaders argue that the caste system has not spared any religion and although Islam and Christianity do not believe in casteism, they cannot escape it. “There are no two ways about it. Islam does not believe in the caste system. But there are castes among Muslims in India,” said Shahabuddin. “So we should also get reservations in scheduled caste category.”
Right now, poor Muslims and Christians get reservations under the other backward classes (OBC) category. There are no available statistics on the number of OBCs in the country, “after 1931, no caste-based census has been conducted in the country,” said V. Chandrashekhar, research officer at the National Commission for Backward Classes.
Those included in this category are entitled to 27% reservations in jobs, admissions in educational institutions, bank loans and subsidized housing. On the other hand, about 162 million Dalit Hindus compete for 15% reservations in Central government jobs, said S.D. Tripathi, personal secretary to the chairman of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes.
“Obviously there are more OBCs competing for a smaller pie than the Hindu scheduled castes. Our numbers are smaller, so more of us benefit” says Gaikwad. He says that like him, most Dalit Hindus are furious and believe that this is an effort to “break in here and take away our share”.
“But let them try,” he adds. “I don’t think Hindu Dalits are going to let that happen.”

Affirmative action

For many centuries, the scheduled castes or Dalits had existed at the bottom of the Indian social hierarchy, forced to pursue dehumanizing professions such as scavenging for survival. Over the last century, champions of social equality fought a long, hard battle with ancient prejudices, setting the stage for affirmative action.
And so, when independence came, the author of the constitution was also the most influential champion of Dalit rights. B.R. Ambedkar enshrined the idea of a classless society into the nation’s founding document. And to help the more backward, downtrodden sections of society, it laid down the idea of affirmative action, that promised them reservations in government educational institutions and government jobs.
But in the decades since, a nexus evolved between the idea of caste identity and politics and as political power devolved to smaller and smaller sections of the country, caste identity has become increasingly important, explains historian Ramachandra Guha in his book India after Gandhi. Over time, the issue of affirmative action has become increasingly contentious and a bitter debate has raged on which group is more backward and how many special privileges should it get? And where does the scope of affirmative action end?

Dalit definition

This debate is now raging within the Dalit community of India, where the idea of equality of religions is clashing with the definition of a Dalit. “A Dalit was defined by the British on the basis of untouchability, which persisted only in Hinduism. These were the people the constitution called scheduled castes. These were the people that the constitution tried to help,” said Tripathi at the National Commission of Scheduled Castes.



Posts a comment

© Indian Dalit Muslims' Voice
Back to top