01/09/2020 India (International Christian Concern) – On Wednesday, January 8, the Supreme Court of India agreed to examine a petition that called for Dalit and other low caste Christians to receive the same government benefits and protection given to their Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh counterparts.
According to a 1950 executive order, Muslims and Christians from low caste backgrounds are unable to receive government benefits and protections given to low caste individuals from Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh backgrounds. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of these individuals endure the same caste-based discrimination, regardless of their religious identity.
The petition was filed by the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC) and called for all scheduled caste benefits and protections to be made “religion neutral”. Advocates Franklin Caesar Thomas and S. Gowthaman, representing NCDC, said, “[a] change in religion does not change social exclusion. Caste hierarchy continues to hold fort within Christianity even though the religion forbids it.”
The petition went on to plead, “Allow and extend the Scheduled Caste status to Christians of Scheduled Caste origin for availing special privilege in education, getting scholarships, employment opportunity, welfare measures, affirmative actions, right to contest in the reserved constituencies from panchayat, legislative assemblies up to the Parliament and for availing the legal remedy/ protection under Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention) of Atrocities Act, 1989 amended in the year 2018.”
In reaction to this petition, Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde said, “This requires some consideration.” The Chief Justice went on to order India’s government to respond to the petition within the next two weeks to justify the exclusion of Christians and Muslims from Scheduled Caste benefits and protections.
If the Supreme Court were to find in favor or the petition and grant Scheduled Caste benefits and protections to Christians and Muslims, this would end decades of significant discrimination. According to many studies, an estimated 80% of India’s Christian community come from low caste and Dalit backgrounds and thus are forced to lose their Scheduled Caste benefits and protections due to their personal choice of religion. Delinking these government benefits and protections from any religious identity would be a major win for religious freedom in India.