Ram Nath Kovind, the Presidential nominee had reportedly stated in 2010 that Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation. He has since clarified that what he actually said was that Christianity and Islam are alien to the ‘notion’ of caste. In India it is common to hear people pronouncing ‘o’ like ‘a’ due to the mother tongue pull. But coming to the crux of the matter, Islam and Christianity are religions and not castes and there is a difference between the two. A Dalit can be a Hindu, Muslim or Christian. His/her caste remains the defining factor despite the conversion to so-called casteless religions like Islam and Christianity. In many churches in India, Dalit Christians are seated separately from the rest of the congregation. It as if Dalits carry the caste mark on their foreheads.
Kovind’s comment which came in the aftermath of the Ranganath Misra Commission report recommending 15% quota in government jobs for socially and economically disadvantaged sections among religious and linguistic minorities in India, therefore merit some introspection instead of undue criticism. The Misra report had recommended 10% quotas for Muslims and 5% for other minorities in government jobs and also proposed Scheduled Caste status for Dalits of all religions. Kovind was probably speaking as a Dalit leader and his contention that the inclusion of Muslims and Christians in the Scheduled Caste category would be unconstitutional needs to be looked at from the perspective of caste, and not religion, being the overarching issue which continues to push Dalits to the margins irrespective of their religion.
Reservation per se is a contentious issue in India. To further expand the scope of reservation to include religious minorities would open up a can of worms. Amongst Christians the Scheduled Tribes already enjoy reservation under the Constitution. If they can also claim reservation as religious minorities then they would be enjoying double advantage.
Undoubtedly reservation is necessary to bring up that section of Indians who have fallen between the cracks as far as their socio-economic profile goes. The poorest deserve to be uplifted by strategic interventions and reservation is one of them. But reservation cannot be extended across the board for people of a tribe/community/caste without assessing their socio-economic statuses. This is the only way to bring fairness and equity to the idea of reservation.