BJP votes against Dalit welfare in Rajya Sabha; Opposition proved right

The BJP found itself in the awkward position of being forced to vote against a resolution that would have ensured that Dalits are treated equally all over the country

Much to its own surprise and embarrassment, the BJP found itself in the awkward position of being forced to vote against a resolution to ensure that Dalits are treated equally all over the country.

Nobody knows how it happened. Perhaps it was because of the fact that a brand new Deputy Chairman was in the chair at that time. Perhaps it was just complacency.  Whatever it was, despite all the meticulous planning and alert floor management throughout the rest of the day, there was a momentary slip-up.  Unwittingly, the ruling party vindicated the Opposition charge that the Modi government is anti-Dalit.

It was the last afternoon of the last day of the Monsoon Session of the Rajya Sabha.  It had been an action-packed day. The entire morning had been tumultuous and there were still some important Bills that to be passed late in the evening before the House was adjourned sine die. The House was taking up a few items of Private Members
business which are normally conducted peacefully and without any surprises.

The actual debate on the Private Member’s resolution moved by Vishambhar Prasad Nishad of the Samajwadi Party was also along expected lines. Passionate but peaceful - it was greeted with nods of approval and agreement from all the 100 members present in the House.

The problem cropped up when Nishad insisted on a vote. Normally, such non-official Bills and Resolutions are withdrawn by the Member who moves them. But on this occasion,  the Samajwadi Member insisted that it should be put to the vote.

Deputy Chairman Harivansh proceeded to ask for a voice vote - and, as expected, declared that it had been ‘negatived’.

However, Nishad and some others demanded a ‘Division’, which means actual voting that is recorded and tallied. The Deputy Chairman went right ahead and ordered the “lobbies to be cleared” and set the voting process rolling.

There were howls of protest from the Treasury benches. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad jumped to his feet and raised objections. BJP president Amit Shah, who happened to be present, was seen frantically conferring with those sitting near him.  The ruling party seniors had obviously realised the political implications of putting on record their vote against the welfare of Dalits.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad jumped to his feet and raised objections. BJP president Amit Shah, who happened to be present, was seen frantically conferring with those sitting near him.  The ruling party seniors had obviously realised the political implications of putting on record their vote against the welfare of Dalits

Social Justice Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot joined his Law Minister in saying that only Bills are put to the vote and not Resolutions. Ravi Shankar Prasad tried to contend that a “new precedent” would be set and therefore the Chair should not allow a Division.

It was too late. Acting on the advice of the Secretary-General, the Deputy Chairman ruled that since he had already ordered the lobbies to be cleared, the  voting process had effectively been started and could not be stopped.

There was no way out. Electronic voting took place. The result was 32 in favour of the Resolution and 66 against.  The Private Member’s Resolution had been defeated – but there were red faces on the Treasury benches for having voted against ensuring equal treatment of Scheduled Caste citizens in all the States of the country and bringing
about a uniform reservation system free of discrimination.

During the debate,  the concerned minister, Thawar Chand Gehlot, had fully endorsed the points raised and accepted that there were many discrepancies across different States and that these had to be looked into and rectified. He also agreed that a proper procedure had to be laid down to add, delete or modify the Scheduled Caste lists so that certain castes were not deprived of the benefits of reservation for no fault of their own.

The detailed discrepancies outlined by Vishambhar Prasad Nishad had been  appreciated by members from all sides of the House and some had even come out with more examples of how – due to spelling errors and various others kinds of confusing nomenclature -  several castes and sub-castes were being left out in the cold.

The flaws in the system are legion. There was a consensus view that many people belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Denotified Castes are being deprived of facilities and concessions and are being neglected because of the lack of a uniform reservation system in the whole country.

For instance, those belonging to the fishermen community in many States face difficulties when they migrate to other States in search of employment -  they are rendered ineligible for availing reservation benefits as they are issued the requisite certificate only by the State from where they have migrated.

The detailed discrepancies outlined by Vishambhar Prasad Nishad had been  appreciated by members from all sides of the House and some had even come out with more examples of how – due to spelling errors and various others kinds of confusing nomenclature -  several castes and sub-castes were being left out in the cold

In almost all the States, the people belonging to fishermen community whose castes have names similar to others are deprived of reservation rights.

In the complex maze of sub-castes having names which are different in different States, the problems lead to confusion and discrimination. For example,  in Uttar Pradesh, the caste of 'Beldar' is included in the approved list of Scheduled Castes, but a sub-caste having similar name 'Bind ' has been excluded.

Similarly, the caste 'Gond' has been included, yet the castes 'Godiya', 'Kahar', 'Kashyap',  'Batham', 'Raikwar', 'Dhuriya' have been excluded.  Also, the caste 'Majhwar' has been included but the castes 'Mallah', 'Kevat', 'Manjhi', 'Nishad' have been excluded.  The
caste 'Turaiha' has been included, but the castes 'Turha', 'Dhivar' and 'Dhimar' have been excluded.

The ‘Shilpkar' Caste has been included, but the castes 'Kumhar', 'Prajapati' have been
excluded.  'Pasi' and 'Tarmali' have been included, but 'Bhar', 'Rajbhar' have been excluded.

There are numerous such discrepancies -  Under the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order 1950 and in the Schedule-VIII of the Madhya Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2000, the caste of 'Manjhi' has been notified at Serial Number 29 and the caste of 'Majhwar' have been notified at Serial No. 30 as Scheduled Tribes throughout the State of
Madhya Pradesh. However, the sub castes like Dhimar, Dhiwar, Kevat, Kahar, Mallah, Nishad, which are actually directly linked to 'Manjhi' and 'Majhwar' have been left out due to which these sub castes are deprived of the facilities of reservation.

Even in a place like Delhi, the caste 'Mallah' has been entered in the list of Scheduled Castes , whereas the sub-castes 'Kevat', 'Dhimar', 'Dhivar', 'Kahar', 'Kashyap', 'Nishad', 'Turha' and 'Manjhi', which are synonymous and homonymous to 'Mallah' have been
excluded.

In Bihar, the castes of 'Mallah', 'Dhivar', 'Dhimar', 'Kevat', 'Kahar',' Khairwar', 'Tiyar', 'Manjhi', 'Khago', 'Bind', 'Nai', 'Rajbhar' and 'Dhanuk' have not been included at all in the list of Scheduled Castes. In Maharashtra, the caste 'Koli' is included in the list of Scheduled Castes, but its synonymous sub castes like 'Bhoi', 'Dhivar', 'Mahadev Koli', 'Kevat', 'Nishad', 'Mallah', 'Keer', 'Kirat', 'Gond', 'Kahar' 'Godiya Kahar', 'Pardesibhai', 'Rajbhoi', 'Dhimar', 'Koli', 'Dor', 'Malhaar', 'Koli', 'Dhangar Koli', 'Kolhe', 'Kolga Tokre', have been excluded from the list of Scheduled Castes.

In Andhra Pradesh, 'Bestha', 'Besthar', 'Gangaputra', Gangavar Jalari', 'Pattapa', 'Pali',' Banne Reddy' and 'Pale Reddy' have been totally excluded from the list of Scheduled Castes.

In Gujarat, 'Bhoi' Caste is included in Scheduled Castes but its synonymous sub castes like 'Dhinvar', 'Mahadev Koli', 'Mallah Keer', 'Kirat', 'Gond', 'Kahar Godiya', 'Kahar, 'Pardesibhai', 'Rajbhoi', 'Dhimar', 'Koli', 'Malhar', 'Dhuriya Kahar', 'Godiya Kahar', 'Kolcha'
have been excluded from the list.

There is clearly a very strong case for deep study of the contradictions and an urgent need to iron out the mess.

What the Resolution sought was to provide standard and uniform norms to end discrimination.  This can be done only by amending Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution to include the homonymous and synonymous sub-castes of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in accordance with the castes registered State-wise in the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 in all the states.

Basically, the need is to ensure that persons belonging to SC/ST category in one State should be treated as belonging to that SC/ST category all over the country.

All political parties across the ideological spectrum agree to this. But the BJP voted against it on the floor of the Rajya Sabha - much to the delight of the Opposition parties.

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