The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has issued a notification appointing a Commission of Inquiry to inquire into whether the benefit of Scheduled Caste can be extended to those from the community who have converted to other religions.

As per the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism can be a member of a Scheduled Caste.

The notification issued on Thursday appoints a Commission with the former Chief Justice of India, Justice K. G. Balakrishnan as the Chairman and Dr. Ravinder Kumar Jain, a retired IAS officer and Prof. Dr. Sushma Yadav, a member of the UGC, as members of the Commission.

The notification says that certain groups have raised the question of revising the existing definition of Scheduled Castes by according the status to new persons who belong to other religions beyond those permitted through Presidential Orders.

It also says that many groups have opposed the proposal and the issue is a seminal and historically complex sociological and constitutional significant question, and a matter of public importance.

The notification also says that no Commission under the Commission of Inquiries Act has so far inquired into the matter.

The terms of reference of the Commission are as follows:-

  • To examine the matter of according Scheduled Caste status to new persons, who claim to historically have belonged to the Scheduled Castes, but have converted to religions other than those mentioned in the Presidential Orders issued from time to time under Article 341 of the Constitution;
  • To examine the implications on the existing Scheduled Castes, of adding such new persons as part of the existing list of Scheduled Castes;
  • To examine the changes Scheduled Caste persons go through on converting to other religions in terms of their customs, traditions, social and other status, discrimination and deprivation, and the implications of the same on the question of giving them Scheduled Caste status, and
  • To examine any other related questions that the Commission deems appropriate, in consultation with and with the consent of the Central Government.

The Commission will have its headquarters in Delhi and is required to submit its report within 2 years.

Justice K. G. Balakrishnan was the CJI from January 14, 2007 to May 11, 2010 and was the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India thereafter.

In August this year, the Supreme Court had asked the Center to file an affidavit on a plea filed in 2004 seeking reservation for converted Dalits. The Apex Court had in 2020 issued notice on a fresh plea seeking SC status to Dalit Christians.

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