Memo To Modi Sarkar: It’s Time India Officially Declared Scheduled Tribes As Hindus

Memo To Modi Sarkar: It’s Time India Officially Declared Scheduled Tribes As HindusPM Narendra Modi in Nyishi tribal headgear of Arunachal Pradesh during his visit to Itanagar (Source: @saagar_anand/Twitter)
Snapshot
  • In 1950, India had declared that anyone who doesn’t profess Hinduism can’t be a member of a Scheduled Caste.

    It’s time to extend the same principle to Scheduled Tribes.

Nishikant Dubey, Member of Parliament from Jharkhand’s Godda constituency, raised a very important point yesterday (22 September). He demanded that any member of the Scheduled Tribes (STs) who changes his religion should be debarred from availing benefits of reservation, as is the case with the people belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs).

Many may not be aware but the Indian State doesn’t officially consider the Scheduled Tribes as communities exclusively belonging to Hinduism. The original constitution had made the same mistake with the SCs too. But it was corrected in 1950 when the then government, via a Presidential Order, changed the rules of the game. The third clause of Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 declared that “no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste”.

This single change ensured two things: a) the Indian state accepted officially that SCs were very much an integral part of Hindu society and b) only those SCs who were Hindus (or wouldn’t convert out of it) could take advantage of the quota system.

Unfortunately, the same provision wasn’t passed in the case of STs. This meant that STs are treated as separate legal entities whose members can have any religion. This has made the task of Christian missionaries fairly easy as they can harvest as many souls as possible among the STs without those communities losing the reservation benefits.

Essentially, when it came to shaming Hinduism and peddling atrocity literature and propaganda against it, caste system was a uniquely Hindu feature and STs were supposed to be its biggest victims so much so that they were said to be forced to be living outside the society - in forest dwellings.

But when it came to giving them justice via the quota system, for their past sufferings, (this is in fact the basis of reservations - social justice, not just backwardness) they were allowed to leave Hinduism without having to give up any fruits of the said social justice. This is a classic case of having your cake and eating it too.

There is no doubt that STs are nothing but Hindus. Most of these communities were part of the mainstream Hindu society but were pushed to take refuge in forests during the period of Islamic invasions. As historian K.S. Lal writes:

“According to Amir Khusrau, wherever the army marched, every inhabited spot was desolated. When the army arrived there (Warangal, Deccan), the Hindu inhabitants concealed themselves in hills and jungles.”

“...the avalanche of Turco-Mughal invaders, and the policy of their Government turned many settled agriculturists into tribals of the jungles. Many defeated Rajas and harassed Zamindars also repaired to forest and remote fortresses for security. They had been defeated in war and due to the policy of making them nest-o-nabud (destroy root and branch), had been reduced to the position of Scheduled Castes / Tribes / Backward Classes.”

Officially, the BJP is strongly opposed to reservation based on religion. There is certainly no mandate for it in the constitution. But de facto, Christian tribals or Muslim belonging to Other Backward Classes continue to enjoy the benefits of India’s reservation system - which was brought in to correct the past wrongs only within the Hindu society.

It’s time to stop this farce. The solution is fairly easy. There is no need to change the constitution. No bill needs to be passed in Parliament. Only thing that’s needed is conviction and resolve to correct the anomaly that has crept in and close this loophole for good.

Article 342 of the constitution empowers the President of India “to specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Tribes in relation to that State or Union territory, as the case may be” after consulting with Governors of the states where these communities are located. And that too via a simple public notification.

So, all that Modi government needs to do is, to convince President Ram Nath Kovind to issue a notification “The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 2020” stating that “no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of the Scheduled Tribes.”

This is necessary not just to fight conversions of tribals but also to proudly establish the fact that Tribals are an integral part of Hindu society and their reservation benefits are a byproduct of having that very identity.

Nishikant Dubey needs to convince no one but his party’s government at the centre. This is a low hanging fruit and must be plucked at the earliest.

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