Religion and Caste in the Constituent Assembly

In the current issue of EPW, Rowena Robinson in an article titled, “Minority Rights vs Caste Claims: Indian Christians and the Predicament of Law” turns to the Constituent Assembly debates to explore how dalit Christians (and other religious minoriites) were excluded from the system of reservations. Her work adds another layer to a rich and growing body of work by scholars like Rochana Bajpai, Iqbal Ansari and Shefali Jha who have looked at the history and theory of group rights in India.

Dalit Christians have been agitating for scheduled caste status that will bring them on par with Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist dalits. Why was this claim not made when the Constitution was being framed? An exploration of the Constituent Assembly debates attempts to understand whether Christian castes were discussed and how fundamental religious liberties, which included crucial educational rights, were given importance over caste claims by the elite Christian representatives in the assembly. It draws a distinction between community rights and claims on the state. The implications of the cluster of rights known as “minority rights” are disentangled and the paper argues that the discriminatory clause in the Scheduled Castes Order of 1950 is part of the problem faced by dalit Christians. There is also a clash between the different kinds of entitlements at issue, which must be acknowledged to harmonise the justice of the state with fairness within the community.

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