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Do headcount of OBCs, UPA to states; panel orders minority caste study too

Tuesday 5 December 2006, by CHISHTI*Seema

NEW DELHI, DECEMBER 4: The Government today informed Rajya Sabha that state governments and Union Territory administrations have been asked to determine the number of OBCs and those among them living below the poverty line.

In a written reply, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Subulakshmi Jagdeesan said data on OBCs would be useful in formulating schemes for their welfare. She made it clear that the Government had no proposal for census of other castes.

The Government, meanwhile, was directed by the Supreme Court today to place within six weeks the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which examined the scope of the Bill providing 27 per cent quota to OBCs in elite educational institutions.

The bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S H Kapadia passed an order to this effect after Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanian said that the Standing Committe’s report was placed before Parliament on December 1 and he needed some time to place the copy of the report.

And on the issue of quota, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has set up a one-man study team to go into the ?caste disability’ factor among Muslims and Christians. Dr Satish Deshpande, sociology professor at the Delhi School of Economics, will essentially assess ??whether it is caste or religion that is functional among Muslims and Christians.’’

The assessment being planned by the NCM is significant as there is already a debate on whether Dalit Muslims and Christians should be included in the reservation for SC/STs. After the 1952 Presidential order, reservation for SC/STs excluded Dalit Muslims and Christians.

Those not in favour of such a provision argue that faiths like Islam and Christianity do not recognise castes, and so inequality in these faiths along caste lines does not exist. But, as this newspaper first reported, Union Minister for Minority Affairs A R Antulay has already made a pitch for including Dalit Muslims and Christians in the SC/ST category. As of now, Muslim and Christian OBCs are included in the OBC category as occupational groups. The number and types of communities included vary across states.

NCM sources said their study is expected to be over by the end of this month and will also focus on different caste categories among Muslims and Christians, apart from Dalits. It is expected that the 40 per cent Muslim and Christian OBCs would also be looked at by this study group.

Though NCM members are silent on the purpose of this study - they say they will discuss it only when it is ready - the findings could be key when the Government evaluates the options before it while taking a stand on the provision of special benefits to certain backward caste groups among Muslims and Christians.

NCM chairman Hamid Ansari refused to comment and Dr Deshpande, who will be conducting the study, simply said: “I am presently looking at the data compiled by the Sachar report and after my study will take a call on what to explore further. It is too early to say what will emerge eventually.”

Among Muslims too, there is resistance to accepting the fact that a caste system is operational within a faith that promises equality to all. Ali Anwar, founder and head of the All-India Muslim Pasmanda Mahaaz and JD(U) MP in Rajya Sabha, said: “Whatever Islamic scriptures say, the facts about Islam in India cannot be wished away. Repression and discrimination among lower caste Muslims is rampant. The upper-caste leadership among Muslims has tried to deflect the argument by talking about reservations for all Muslims. What is necessary is the inclusion of Dalit Muslims and Christians among SC/STs and to include more and more occupational lower -caste Muslim groups and communities in the OBC category.”

P S Krishnan, advisor to the Human Resource Development Ministry on reservation in institutes of higher education, maintained “caste is the central dividing factor in India, even among Muslims and Christians. The last nation-wide caste census was in 1931.We need to have another definitive head-count and look at different castes in all religions.” - (With ENS)

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