January  2004 
Year 10    No.95


In Rajasthan, tribals who convert beware

Within weeks of its landslide victory in the state elections, the BJP government in Rajasthan has taken a controversial decision to simply strike of all tribals who had changed their religion from the list of Scheduled Tribes. This decision was taken by the tribal area development minister, Kanakmal Katara on January 8, 2004.

Katara is reported to have instructed senior officials to take appropriate steps to remove from the ST list those tribals who have converted their religion. In the Gopal Krishna case, the Mumbai High Court had ruled that Buddhist converts could not be taken out of SC/ST list. Among the many groups who have protested against this move, the PUCL Rajasthan unit has strongly condemned the state government move as unconstitutional. It is clearly stated in Article 342 that the President declares a tribe or tribal groupís inclusion in the STs list and once notified only the Parliament could remove them from the list through legislation. If any group is to be removed from this list on the basis of religious conversion, even that has to be decided by the Parliament. But the PUCL maintains that such legislation by Parliament would go against Article 15 that prohibits any discrimination on the basis of religion.

The minister has not clarified what category of converts would be removed from the list. The Patna High Court and many other courts have ruled that it is not necessary that all tribals are Hindus. "Considering this, would the minister remove from the ST list the names of even those who have converted to Hinduism?" asked the PUCL, threatening to launch a public agitation on the issue.

The PUCL maintains that while religion could be relevant in case of Scheduled Castes, it was completely irrelevant in case of STs, whose identity is derived from their life style, backwardness, cultural norms and a social system based on clan, kabila and customs.

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