“It is not only unconstitutional, but it would also encourage conversions. We would oppose any move towards reservations for Dalit Christians and Muslims,” said then BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar, now a central minister. These are words that were repeated in Parliament this session by the BJP, now in government.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad made it quite clear in the Rajya Sabha that the Narendra Modi government had absolutely no intention to bring Dalit Muslims and Christians at par with Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists of the same caste groups. Javadekar’s reference to religious conversions – the root of the current wave of love jehad laws and their parental anti-conversion legislation in eight Indian states – is what this is all about.
Babasaheb Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru had sought to make amends to a historic and ethnic wrong done over three millennia to this group of citizens. Article 341 therefore gave them a special place, social rights and reservation up to 15 per cent in educational institutions and government employment.
While Article 341 was not diluted, it was emasculated by the Presidential Order of 1950. This said that the constitutional guarantees of affirmative action would be limited only to those who remained Hindu. In effect people would not be entitled to reservations and the protective umbrella of the untouchability-ending laws if they left the Hindu fold.
This, in effect, is the world’s most extensive, most powerful and most viciously bigoted anti-conversion law. It also, in effect, communalises the protective cover of the law of the land. This is not how newspaper articles narrate the persistent tragedy of the ‘DCs and the DMs’. But legalese cannot take away the bitterness of the truth.
(The author is a senior journalist and commentator. Views are personal)