Constraints on the Freedom of Conscience of India’s Dalits – 90xtra


Seventy several years back this month, India as a young country handed a presidential buy to be certain elementary freedoms and legal rights for Dalit persons. On the other hand, the very same get also prevented them from training their liberty of conscience and belief.

The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Buy of 1950 identified the caste communities – also referred to as Scheduled Castes or Dalits – who have seasoned extreme social, academic and economic backwardness arising out of the regular follow of “untouchability.” They were being offered with affirmative motion added benefits below various govt guidelines, which include education and work, political representation and even security underneath particular penal provisions.

However, paragraph 3 of the presidential purchase constrained the classification of Scheduled Castes originally only to Hindus. Subsequently, the get was amended to involve Sikhs in 1956 and Buddhists in 1990. This signifies, if a Dalit converts to Sikhism or Buddhism, his or her protections will continue to be. But if they pick to undertake Christianity or Islam, they will no for a longer time have accessibility to the affirmative actions and other gains.

This clause presumes that the struggling of a Dalit finishes following they transform to Islam or Christianity.

The rationale appears to be to be that Islam and Christianity are far more egalitarian religions and, consequently, a Dalit would not confront the similar discrimination in their new-identified religion. Regrettably, Dalits converting to Islam and Christianity have observed that their “dalitness” clung to them and followed them, even right after their religious conversion.

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In May possibly 2018, a youthful Dalit Christian, Kevin Joseph, was murdered by his wife’s kin in Kerala. His only criminal offense was that he experienced dared to love and marry an “upper-caste” girl. Principal classes courtroom judge C. Jayachandran observed in the judgment that the motive of the murder was caste prejudice. This was one of lots of incidents that newspapers routinely report on.

“Though Christianity does not acknowledge caste technique, the evils of caste procedure in some States are as commonplace as in Hindu modern society specially amid the converts,” observed the Supreme Court of India in 1992 in a landmark judgment in Indra Sawhney and Other people v. Union of India and Other people. “In Andhra Pradesh, there are Harijan Christians, Reddy Christians, Kamma Christians and many others. Likewise, in Tamil Nadu, there are Pillai Christians, Marvar Christians, Nadar Christians and Harijan Christians and so forth. That is to say all the converts to Christianity have not divested or set themselves off from their caste labels and crossed the caste barrier but have with them the banners of their caste labels. Like Hindus, they interact and have their familial partnership and marital alliances only within just the transformed caste teams,” the judgment extra.

In a petition prior to the Supreme Court of India, two apex bodies of the church in India – the Countrywide Council of Church buildings in India and the Catholic Bishops’ Meeting of India, together symbolizing near to 20 million Christians – have expressed their deep dismay at how the church in India continues to struggle with caste tactics.


Even normally, Dalit Christians do not dwell in isolation. Though they could interact with other Christians on Sunday mornings, their weekdays are filled with social interactions with all sections of modern society. Their names nonetheless betray their caste. And they are marked as equally Christians and Dalits – neither of the two identities assists them, as the Christian minority has also been subjected to political targeting and propaganda.

“Non-Hindu minorities dwelling in pre-dominantly Hindu India could not escape from its dominant social and cultural influences. As a result, each from in just and devoid of, caste among non-Hindu communities been given continual sustenance and stimulus,” mentioned the report of the Mandal Commission (the Socially and Educationally Backward Courses Commission).

“Caste is in reality a social phenomenon shared by pretty much all Indian communities irrespective of their religious persuasions,” mentioned the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM), beneath the chairmanship of Justice Ranganath Misra, in its report in 2007. “Many of the particular castes are found at the same time in different spiritual communities, similarly experiencing difficulties of social degradation and mistreatment each by their co-religionists and the other people.”

This stranglehold carries on mainly because the overall premise of the caste program is not about how individuals check out themselves, but relatively how the modern society does so. The commonplace prejudice and bias in opposition to them are dependent on the conventional do the job undertaken by them or thanks to their beginning into a distinct spouse and children. The caste program is deeply entrenched into the Indian intellect, governing a lot of spots of social conversation.

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This results in double vulnerability for Dalit Christians devoid of the safety of the legislation. In accordance to MapViolence, a violence-monitoring web-site, Dalit Christians have documented recurrent social boycotts and violence on account of their caste and religion id.

The dilemma is so acute that the Nationwide Fee to Overview the Doing work of the Structure observed in 2002, “In look at of the reality that in some parts of the region, specially in the south, converts to Christianity from particular SCs are subjected to crimes and atrocities as their precise Hindu counterparts are (variation of faith earning no change in this regard).” The Commission advisable that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 be amended to include things like “converts to Christianity from Scheduled Castes.” But the act was in no way amended.

Dalits have to spend a significant price tag if they pick to exercise the most fundamental of freedoms – the liberty of conscience and the freedom to observe the faith of one’s preference. They get rid of protections and added benefits.

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Dalit communities had been informed for centuries that they experienced no company, they could not make the most basic decisions freely about where they operate, who they marry and how they worship. They had been denied entry into households, colleges and areas of worship.

In an insidious manner, paragraph 3 of the presidential purchase is effective in the identical way even today. It penalizes Dalits for picking out a religion or rejecting a faith custom. It forces them to keep on to function in a religious custom by failing to allow them the capacity to make a free alternative.

It is unjust to be compelled to pick concerning one’s spiritual beliefs on one particular hand and protections and specific benefits less than the legislation on the other. The Condition should by no means drive any particular person to compromise on their spiritual beliefs. This is a very clear violation of the protections beneath the Constitution of India and a lot of international conventions.


Spiritual conversions are an act of human agency. The skill to modify one’s spiritual beliefs or to convey one’s deeply held perception lies at the main of what it means to be human. The conversion of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a Dalit gentleman who oversaw the framing of India’s Constitution, to Buddhism was as a lot a political act as an expression of his spiritual beliefs.

Freedom of conscience is the bedrock of any democratic culture. Freedom of religion is entwined with the independence of affiliation, the liberty of speech and expression, flexibility of equality and the ideal to everyday living alone.

The NCRLM is right in recommending that the governing administration “completely de-url the Scheduled Caste standing from faith and make the Scheduled Castes net completely faith-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.”

The 1950 Presidential Buy was intended to shield the essential rights and freedoms of Dalits, but sadly operates to restrict the flexibility of conscience and belief. The governing administration need to solution this at the earliest so that all folks are in a position to get pleasure from the rights protected under the Constitution of India.

Tehmina Arora is a journalist with StoriesAsia

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