Home Muslim religion Tahir Mahmood writes | Reservation for Muslim and Christian SCs: why a new commission when the old one was ignored

Tahir Mahmood writes | Reservation for Muslim and Christian SCs: why a new commission when the old one was ignored


The government action over the ostensibly religious basis of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Ordinance of 1950 made headlines. Reference was made in a related report to the Ranganath Misra Commission’s 2007 recommendation on the matter with a remark that the then government “did not accept the recommendation on the grounds that it was not supported by field studies” (IE, September 19). This requires clarification.

The Constitution of India, which came into effect in 1950, guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the laws to citizens (Article 14). Expanding on this basic human right, he stated that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen solely on the basis of, among other things, religion and caste (article 15). Provisions were, however, included in the Constitution regarding the welfare and advancement of the so-called Scheduled Castes (SC). To reinforce them, Article 15 was amended next year to clarify that its original principle would not deter the state from making “any special provision” for classes of socially and educationally backward citizens, or SCs and tribes. listed (ST).

The Constitution had left it to the President of India (read central government) to proclaim the first list of SCs, and to Parliament to modify the list from time to time in the future. A few months later, the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 was enacted, containing the first list, with a clear endorsement under its paragraph 3 that no non-Hindu, even if belonging to one of the scheduled castes ( or to be listed in the future), would be covered by its entries. Following persistent protests from the Sikh and Buddhist communities, the rider was amended twice, in 1956 and 1990, to admit lower castes among them into the fold of constitutionally recognized SCs. All those belonging to these castes whose ancestors might have converted to Christianity or Islam in the distant past remained, and still remain, beyond its reach.

On the eve of the 2004 general elections, the then out of power Congress promised in its manifesto that upon coming to power it would form a national commission to examine and report on the question of the reservation of minorities in government jobs and education. institutions that they have been calling for for a long time. This was an electoral constraint since, in the past, the party had always been openly opposed to this requirement. After his unexpected election victory, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s personal integrity saw promise translated into action. The constitution of the proposed commission was announced by notice in the official gazette on October 29, 2004, setting out at length its terms of reference – all relating essentially to the possibility of reservations for religious and linguistic minorities.

The government took about five months to select the members of the commission, and their names were finally announced in March 2005 – former Chief Justice Ranganath Misra as chairman, and myself as a member, taken over under the clause in the October 2004 notification that one of the members must be “a legal and constitutional expert”. The other two members selected were Anil Wilson, principal of St Stephen’s College, and Mohinder Singh, a researcher in Punjab studies. Officially called the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, it became popular after its chairman as the Misra Commission.

Two court cases against the religion-based exclusivity of the Scheduled Caste Ordinance 1950 had long been pending before the Supreme Court. The Court, on its request for the government’s final response to the petitions, was told by its lawyer that the case would be referred to the Misra Commission for research and recommendation. The commission’s terms of reference were later amended by the government to include among them “matters raised in court relating to Section 3” of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950. The commission’s report was delivered to the Prime Minister in May 2007. This newly added mandate was responded to in the report with a recommendation that the rider tied to religion under said decree be removed to make the SC Act “religiously neutral such as the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, also of 1950.

There was a deafening silence from the government. Following persistent public demands, the commission’s report was finally tabled in parliament – two and a half years after it was presented. There was no report of action taken and no discussion in either House. The government has never disclosed its position on the commission’s recommendations and has not responded to any questions about them. Only once did a cabinet minister tell the media outside Parliament that “we will choose sensible recommendations” from the commission’s recommendations. Members of the current ruling political party, then the main opposition party, strongly criticized the report and called it an “anti-national” measure.

All of these comments, by both ruling and opposition parties at the time, were about the commission’s positive recommendation of its original minority reservation mandate. There was never even a whisper, official or private, about his position on the later added mandate regarding the religion-caste nexus under the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950. The media report that his recommendation on this matter was rejected by the government “on the grounds that it was not supported by field studies” is, I fear, not correct – the government had just slept on the entire report until he lost power seven years later.

Anil Wilson, a member of the Misra Commission, had died before his report was even tabled in Parliament. Ranganath Misra breathed his last in 2012, and Mohinder Singh this year. Only I am here now to recall the forgotten history of the commission. Going by the position then taken on its report by the current government of the country, I am unable to understand the surprise decision to create another similar body. Given their known policies, this seems somewhat paradoxical.

The author is a professor of law and a former member of the Law Commission of India. He was also a member of the Ranganath Commission