Monday, October 15, 2007

The battle for reserved status: Dalits vs Neo-Dalits vs OBCs

Dalits are finding Christianity and Islam especially attractive and are converting in droves to escape their branding as Dalits. They are often referred to as the "Neo-Dalits" in the media.

But Christian and Islam Dalit converts stand to lose not just their name tags but any benefit they received while they were legally Dalits. As such many Dalits shroud their conversion in secrecy. Recently there have been increasing calls from non-Hindu and social advocacy groups for the government to continue affirmative action for Dalit converts. The Sangh Parivar has been most exuberant in their opposition to affirmative action for the "Neo-Dalits". The Sangh Parivar is a body of institutions and political parties with the common ideology of "Hindutva".

The Indian National Commission for Schedule Caste has been examining the issue regarding the need for affirmative action for Dalit converts at the request of the Indian Government. Recently it announced its decision of favoring the "reserved" status for Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam.
(Source: Times of India)

But what makes this decision more complex and controversial is the caveat than went along with it. The NCSC favors the reservation without encroaching the benefits of those already under the umbrella of reservation! Currently the Government earmarks 15% reservation for the Scheduled Castes. Implementing the NCSCs recommendation would mean reducing the benefits for the Other Backward Castes (OBC) or having to challenge the Supreme Courts directive of a maximum of 50% reseravtion. The Supreme court might actually be less of a formidable adversary than the Sangh Parivar. The Sangh has shown to have immense capability of causing loud protests with possible large scale disruption of normalcy within the country.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal ran an article (In India Dalits convert to Christianity and face extra bias - Yaroslav Trofimov) rightfully critical of the caste system but also calling the absence of extended protection to Christian Dalit converts as a double bias against them.

Before the NCSC delivered its decision I had mulled over the issue of " Neo-Dalits" and if by extended reservation to ex-Dalits were we also diluting the efficacy on those that need it the most, Dalits who remain Dalits.

NCSC seems aware of the dangers of diluting the benefits to Dalits by adding the caveat but chooses to be ignorant of the effect it will have on the OBCs and the non-reserved population of India.

You can read my review of the WSJ article and my opinion on the reserved status for "Neo-Dalits" at "India Indeed: Indepth".

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