The government of India further stalled a Dalit civil rights case that has been tangled up in the Supreme Court for three years. In early March, the court referred the case to the National Commission for Backward Classes for yet another opinion. This decision came in spite of the fact that every constitutional authority in the country has been found in favor of the Dalits (“Untouchables”) in the case.
The case, filed by India’s Center for Public Interest Litigation, challenges a law that strips Dalits of their affirmative action benefits when they become Christians or Muslims. India’s government sets aside a certain percentage of government jobs and college admission slots for Dalits. The intent of this law is to help Dalits, who have been oppressed by the caste system for centuries. Even though the caste system is now illegal, its practices are deeply ingrained in the country’s social structure.
The loophole limiting Christians and Muslims from receiving the benefits hinges on the fact that the caste system was created by the country’s traditional religion. Since Christianity and Islam do not espouse the caste system, many politicians and citizens alike say that anyone who converts to one of these faiths does not need government assistance. Rather, it should be reserved for those who stay faithful to the country’s prominent religion.
In announcing the latest development in the case, the court explained that Dalit Christians and Muslims legally fit the description of people who are classified as “backward caste” in some states.
This is the third government committee to review the case. The Supreme Court has also suggested that the Dalit reservations should be increased from 15 percent to 50 percent. In light of this, some officials say the case needs to be re-examined by the government agencies involved.
The government denies postponing a final decision on the case. Rather, they say it is simply a matter of following the due diligence demanded by the constitution. Critics say that the government did not take nearly as long to grant the same privileges to Sikhs and Buddhists.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to conduct another hearing on this case in late March.