During a hearing for petitions seeking Scheduled Caste (SC) status for those who converted to Islam and Christianity, Justice S K Kaul, presiding over a three-judge bench, asked: “Can caste be imputed to other religions when the religion does not provide for any such discrimination in its structure…”
The court has set a hearing for July to address whether a commission's report, not yet approved by the government, may be used as evidence in a legal challenge.
Additionally, the court will consider whether a writ issued by the court can modify a presidential order.
The bench will examine whether empirical data can be relied upon in the case, ultimately addressing the validity of the challenge before the court.
Petitioners argue that the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, is discriminating on the basis of religion as it only recognises Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs as SC, and, thus, is unconstitutional.
Senior Advocate Guru Krishnakumar, representing a Scheduled Caste Hindu association, argued against petitions seeking to amend the presidential order through a judicial writ.
He noted that this prayer relates to the policy of the legislature or executive, not the judiciary.
Furthermore, he pointed out that even in the first census, converts to Christianity were excluded from the SC status.
"You need to show a violation of the Constitution which is clearly affecting the basic structure because you are dealing with a constitutional provision," he said.
According to Krishnakumar, the Supreme Court has repeatedly asserted that Scheduled Castes are distinct from other religions, limiting constitutional provisions only to those enumerated in the Scheduled Caste order who are Hindu and not applicable to those of other faiths.
Members of other religions can make use of provisions that address untouchability, the counsel said.
Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj spoke on behalf of the Centre and advised the court to hold off on any decisions until the new commission, headed by Justice K G Balakrishnan, completes its investigation and releases its report.
Petitioners were advised by Justice Amanullah to focus on assisting the court with original empirical data. He clarified that "empirical data which is reasonable, which is reliable, has a persuasive value, you can assist the court with that."
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