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

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Religion, Caste and Conversion

Membership of a Scheduled Caste and Judicial Deliberations

The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 and the two amendments of 1956 and 1990 posit a direct correlation between religion and caste. Only a Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist, according to these acts, can be a member of a Scheduled Caste; caste thus is assumed to exist and survive only within the specified religious communities. This assumption has been a source of litigations often involving those Christian converts and their descendants whose membership of a Scheduled Caste was disputed on account of a change in their religion. The Supreme Court had upheld the assumption that the presence of caste was contingent on religion. However, its understanding of the relationship of caste with religion in the subsequent decades witnessed major shifts. The influence of this new understanding was reflected in its recent judgments when it adjudicated on the pleas of those descendants who were trying to recover the membership of castes which their ancestors had seemingly lost following their conversion to Christianity.

I am grateful to Sangeeta Dasgupta and Tanika Sarkar for their comments on the manuscript. I am also thankful to the ICSSR, New Delhi, for the award of a postdoctoral fellowship, which gave me the time to work on this article.

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