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    What is BJP’s Reason for Opposing Andhra Pradesh Government’s Bid for SC Status for Dalit Christians?

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    On March 24, the Cabinet led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy passed a resolution in the Assembly asking the Union government to provide Scheduled Caste (SC) status to Dalit Christians. This move has sparked controversy with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposing the decision and calling it unconstitutional. The Cabinet unanimously passed the resolution and sent it to the Union government seeking to amend the Constitution. The BJP has approached Andhra Pradesh Governor Abdul Nazeer asking him to stall the process.

    In 2009, as the Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh, YS Rajasekhara Reddy adopted a resolution appealing the Union Government to amend the Constitution and award Scheduled Caste (SC) status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. Justifying the reason for providing SC status to Dalit Christians, Jagan said that converting to another religion would not change a Dalit’s social or economic status or their livelihood.

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    According to Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, only Dalits of Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh faiths can be categorised as SCs. There have been several petitions seeking the inclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims into SC category in the Supreme Court. Responding to one of the Public Interest Litigations, the Union Government last year opposed their inclusion by stating that Christianity is an “egalitarian” religion which does not have a caste system.

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    In their pursuit to deny reservation and benefits to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, the Union government had also dubbed the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities report (2007) as “flawed”. The Commission had recommended SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. The Union government has however formed a three-member commission to study the inclusion.

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    Inclusion of Dalit Christians in SC category has been a long-standing demand by the community. Last year, in August, Dalit Christians in the state, led by AP Federation of Churches and Vijayawada Dalit Christian Associations observed a Black Day for denying SC status to Christians but extending the same to Buddhists and Sikhs.

    However, Right-Wing organisations and the BJP believe that Dalits would abandon Hinduism and convert to other religions if the SC benefits were extended to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. Opposing Jagan’s decision, Andhra BJP chief Somu Veerraju claimed that the decision will affect the “real Dalits” from benefiting from the rights reserved for SCs.

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    According to political theorist Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, Jagan’s move will not materialise as he anticipates opposition from within Dalit groups, who identify as Hindus. Ilaiah says that Jagan is fully aware of the opposition from the BJP or the Dalit groups. “The Supreme Court will not make a decision on this issue anytime soon. Amidst opposition from other groups, he might just say that he tried. This is a move to increase his electoral base by reaching out to the Dalit Christian community.”

    Talking about the BJP’s opposition to the inclusion, he says, “BJP will naturally oppose anything that benefits Christians or Muslims. But the other aspect of it is that it will make the process of conversion very easy. Many already practise a different religion but register themselves as Scheduled Caste during the census fearing that they would lose benefits.”

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    Rajesh M
    Rajesh M
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