ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Religion and Scheduled Caste Status

The Supreme Court's judgment in the case of Mohammad Sadique carries disturbing implications for Muslim Dhobis, Dooms, Julahas, Mochis, etc, who face social disabilities similar to Hindu Dhobis, Dooms, Julahas, Mochis, etc, but are denied the same legal status. It seems to convey that the former could get the Scheduled Caste status provided they agree to convert to Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism. This judgment is in conflict with the basic tenets of the Constitution. There is thus an urgent need to review the relationship of religion and caste as assumed in the acts that deal with the question of the membership of SCs.

Sangeeta Dasgupta read the draft and suggested changes. I thank the Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi, for the award of a postdoctoral fellowship, which gave me the time to work on this article.

On 29 April 2016, a bench of the Supreme Court upheld the claim of Mohammad Sadique to be a member of a Scheduled Caste (SC). Sadique, a popular folk singer of Punjab, was born in a Muslim family; the case arose from his election to the Punjab legislative assembly from a constituency reserved for SCs. The judgment is significant because it exposes the conflict between the premise of the relevant acts and the rulings of the apex court on the question of the membership of anSC. The judgment is also significant for its disturbing implications for the principle of equality as enshrined in the Constitution.

Before discussing Sadique’s case, let us look into the acts dealing with the question of membership of the SCs. The acts—The Constitution (SCs) Order 1950 and the two amendments to this order introduced in 1956 and 1990—specify that no person other than a Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist can be a member of an SC (Samarendra 2016: 38). A Muslim is thus not eligible for the membership of an SC. This was the reason behind the dispute that involved Sadique.

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