Converted & Damned Too
By Dr M P Raju
23 February, 2004
now Conversion to Christianity or Islam was to cost you only
the Scheduled Caste status; now by the grace of the Judiciary it
may cost even the Scheduled Tribe Status. According to one of
the latest judgments of the Supreme Court, a Scheduled Tribe
member after his/her conversion to Catholic religion may lose
his/her Scheduled Tribe status unless he/she continues with
certain customs and traits of his tribe; that too being a question
of fact to be proved by trial in courts.
who was the President of the Pattambi
Congress Mandalam, lodged a complaint against one
Chandramohanan alleging that the respondent took one
eight-year-old girl named Elizabeth P. Kora to a class room in
the Patambi Government U.P. School, at 3.30 p.m. on 24th
October, 1992, with an intent to dishonour and outrage her
modesty. On 11th November, 1992, the said complaint
was treated as a First Information Report under Section 509
of the Indian Penal Code. On 21st November, 1992, the
Investigating Officer came to know that the father of the
victim belonged to the Mala Aryan Community, which is
considered to be a Scheduled Tribe in Kerala and lodged
another First Information Report, charging Chandramohanan
under Section 3(i)(xi) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. On the basis of
the said First Information Reports, the Chief Judicial
Magistrate summoned the respondent. Chandramohanan
filed a petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure, for quashing the charges framed under
Section 3(1)(xi) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The High Court was of
the view that since the victim's parents have embraced
Christianity, the victim ceased to be a member of the
Scheduled Tribe. On this premise, the High Court quashed
the charges framed against the respondent under
Section 3(1)(xi) of the Act. Against the said judgment,
the State of Kerala preferred an appeal by way of special
leave petition before the Supreme Court.
When the matter
came up before a Bench of two Judges,
they decided that the matter should be heard by a larger
Bench. Thus, the matter came up before a Bench of three
judges - the Chief Justice, Justice S.B. Sinha and Justice
S.H. Kapadia. The judgment is described as an order and
does not mention the name of the judge who has prepared
and pronounced the judgment on behalf of the bench.
Was it an oversight or an omission perhaps deliberate with
The Supreme Court
has set aside the High Court's order and
has send it back for trial. So it may appear that the State
of Kerala has won and Chandramohanan lost this round.
It may be felt that the Supreme Court did not approve the
proposition that by the very fact of conversion to Christianity
a Scheduled Tribe will lose his/her tribal status. But it
may not be as simple as that.
The Supreme Court
has, perhaps unwarrantedly, categorically
stated: ".but the question as to whether he ceases to be a
member thereof or not must be determined by the
appropriate court as such a question would depend upon the
fact of each case. In such a situation, it has to be established
that a person who has embraced another religion is still
suffering from social disability and also following the customs
and tradition of the community, which he earlier belonged to."
This, in fact, alters
the settled position of law with regard
to the social status of a Scheduled Tribe even after conversion
to Christianity. The Supreme Court has offered, on a platter,
to the Scheduled Tribe members an additional handcuff.
If one dares to change one's religion, one cannot enjoy the
constitutional and other rights/ privileges unless one can
establish that one is still suffering from social disability.
One has also to ensure that the customs and traditions of
the community are followed.
Is there a presumption
lurking in the unconscious mind of the
judges that all the tribes of this country belong to Hindu
religion and the conversion to Christianity or Islam is likely
to remove the social disability and stop them from following
the customs and traditions which they were previously following?
It is interesting
to see how the judges rejected the distinction
between castes and tribes argued on behalf of the state of Kerala.
counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant would
submit that by reason of conversion, a tribe does not cease to
be tribe. According to learned counsel whereas in relation to
the scheduled castes notified under the Constitution
(Scheduled Castes) (Union Territories) Order, 1951 to show
that no person who professes a religion different from the
Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist would be deemed to be a
member of a Scheduled Caste, no such provision is
contained in the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950.
This submission in our opinion cannot be accepted."
The Judges have
proceeded on another presumption. After
conversion to Christianity if the family has not been following
the customs and rituals of his tribe, he will lose his tribal status.
If he belonged to a tribe following animism and now is
converted to Hinduism and stopped to follow the animistic
rituals and customs he will lose his tribal status. Is this what
the Court wants us to believe? This is what it says:
"If by reason
of conversion to a different religion a long time
back, he/ his ancestors have not been following the customs,
rituals and other traits, which are required to be followed by
the members of the Tribe and even had not been following
the Customary Laws of Succession Inheritance, Marriage etc.
he may not be accepted to be a member of a Tribe. In this
case, it has been contended that the family of the victim had
been converted about 200 years back and in fact that father
of the victim married a woman belonging to a Roman Catholic,
wherefrom he again became a Roman Catholic. The question,
therefore, which may have to be gone into is as to whether
the family continued to be a member of a Scheduled Tribe
There is also an
indirect suggestion that if the community do
not accept the converted tribals as belonging to their own tribe,
the converted tribals will lose their tribal status. This too may
prove very dangerous in the present social fabric of the country.
Thus even though the Supreme Court contained some of the
harm from the order of the Kerala High Court and set aside its
order, it opened another floodgate. The Apex Court, whether
intended or not, has not only opened a Pandora's box but also
given a convenient handle to the majoritarian fanatical
organisations for minority-bashing. The days may not be far
off, when even the converted tribals may have sleepless nights
like the converted Dalits are having now.