She Converted To Islam, Availed Haj Subsidy, Yet Got Dalit-Reserved Panchayat Seat. Finally, Her Caste Certificate Is Cancelled

Swati Goel Sharma

Jun 12, 2024, 01:36 PM | Updated Jun 13, 2024, 08:29 PM IST

Caste certificate cancelled.
Caste certificate cancelled.
  • It has taken close to 10 years to cancel a Scheduled Caste certificate issued to a woman who converted to Islam 40 years ago.
  • Do individuals born as members of Scheduled Castes retain their caste-related government benefits after converting to Islam or Christianity?

    Paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, under Article 341, states that "no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Castes."

    Despite this clear constitutional position, authorities often overlook it when issuing caste certificates or granting caste-based benefits to those who have converted to any other religion than Sikhism or Buddhism. Rights groups frequently challenge these oversights legally, but the resolution of such cases often takes several years.

    In one such case, it has taken close to 10 years to cancel a Scheduled Caste certificate issued to a woman who converted to Islam 40 years ago. The woman has already completed her full five-year tenure as a member of zila panchayat in her area — a position that was reserved for a Dalit woman.

    The Case

    Shakuntala, who is now 65, was born in a Hindu family in the Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh to Ramnath Singh and Bhagwan Deyi. The parents belong to the Jaatav caste that comes under the Dalit category.

    After the death of her first husband, who also belonged to a Hindu family of the Jaatav caste, Shakuntala married one Abdul Lateef. The wedding was conducted as per Islamic rites and she was renamed to Shakila after her conversion. She was in her early 20s that time. The year was 1983.

    In 2015, Shakila fought the zila panchayat poll from ward number 8 of Najibabad block in Bijnor, which is an SC-reserved seat, and won. The caste certificate that she submitted with her nomination was made in 2011, and was signed by one Khan Rashid Ali as seen below.

    Caste certificate issued to Shakila
    Caste certificate issued to Shakila
    Shakila’s name is mentioned at number 17 in the list
    Shakila’s name is mentioned at number 17 in the list

    Her opponent, Manju, raised the issue of her religious identity and wrote to the Bijnor superintendent of police (SP) and district magistrate (DM) to take action against Shakila. The authorities failed to act.

    A Bijnor-based organisation named Vishwa Dalit Parishad intervened and took the case to the New Delhi-based National Commission for Scheduled Castes on Manju’s behalf.

    Manju’s complaint to the commission, accessed by Swarajya, said that Shakila’s passport, issued to her in 2011, showed that she had been on Haj in Mecca after availing of the Haj subsidy by the central government, clearly establishing her Islamic identity.

    The complaint further said that Shakila and Lateef have a son named Yusuf, who married as per Islamic rites.

    The complaint also said that Shakila, who is not a Dalit anymore, has usurped the rights of an SC woman over the reserved zila panchayat seat.

    In July 2017, the commission issued notices to the Bijnor DM and SP for their response.

    A hearing was held at the commission’s New Delhi office the same year.

    In the meeting, then Bijnor DM Jagatraj and then Deputy SP Gajinder Pal Singh appeared. The DM, who did not deny the allegations in Manju’s complaint, stated that the case filed by her should be ignored because she did not object to Shakila’s name at the nomination stage.

    He also stated that the caste certificate issued to Shakila in September 2011 was “legitimate”.

    The commission objected to the reply and schooled the DM about the Constitution.

    The Commission noted that “it appears that the caste certificate issued to Shakila should be cancelled” and that she should be suspended from the zila panchayat post.

    The Commission also called for an FIR (first information report) to be registered against the officials who issued the caste certificate to Shakila. Read the minutes of the meeting of the hearing below:

    Minutes of the meeting of an NCSC hearing in 2017
    Minutes of the meeting of an NCSC hearing in 2017

    Despite the Commission’s directive, no action was taken in the matter by district magistrate or police.

    Bhupendra Pal Singh, president of Vishwa Dalit Parishad, told this correspondent that he sent several reminders to the DM and SP offices after the Commission’s hearing, but no action has been taken till date.

    However, on the directive of the Commission, the case went to the District Level Caste Scrutiny Committee, a government body responsible for verification of caste certificates and cancellation of wrongly issued caste certificate.

    In its final hearing in the matter last week, the Committee cancelled the caste certificate of Shakila, citing Paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, under Article 341. The order states that all evidence establishes Shakila’s conversion to Islam and she has violated the Constitution.

    What Next?

    Bhupendra Pal Singh told Swarajya that it has been a long 10 years fight for his organisation.

    “The Constitution is clear on the matter, but everyone from the authority who signs on the caste certificate to the DM who refused to cancel Shakila’s zila panchayat membership expressed ignorance on whether caste is retained after conversion. As a result, we have had to fight legally at every step,” he said.

    “You know that if you fight Constitutionally, it takes a lot of time.”

    In the next step after the Committee’s order, the organisation would try to get a police case filed against Shakila for using a fraudulent document to grab a government position.

    “We would demand sedition charges,” said Singh, who, through his organisation, has taken up more than a dozen such cases where women born in SC families continued to take benefits reserved for Scheduled Castes after they converted to Islam through nikah.

    Singh, who belongs to the Jaatav caste himself, said that it came to light during this period that Shakila had got two votes made in her name in the 2015 polls. In the voter list, her name was mentioned twice, as Shakuntala (her previous name) and Shakila, he said.

    "But that's a separate fight altogether," he said, adding, "It could take another ten years."

    Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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