The Bombay High Court announced a recent and important decision that highlights the issues of caste-based policy in a diverse and multi-religious society. The issue focused on a denial of a scheduled caste certificate to a 17-year-old girl because of picture of Jesus in her house. Authorities refused her certificate because she had a portrait of Jesus Christ in her house, which they considered ‘proof of conversion’.
The petitioner, the girl’s father said that the picture was a gift, and filed the case after the Amravati District Caste Certificate Scrutiny Committee denied his daughter’s claim to be a part of the Mahar community, a Scheduled Caste (SC) group. As part of the Indian government’s policy of affirmative action, Scheduled Castes are eligible for educational benefits and reserved places in higher education institutions, as well as job opportunities.
The presence of a portrait of Jesus Christ in the respondent’s house was the turning point in this case. According to the police inquiries, this photograph served as proof of the family’s conversion to Christianity.
However, the Bombay High Court explicitly rejected this concept, stating that the mere presence of a religious image in a house didn’t indicate conversion.
The two-judge bench said, “No sane man will accept or believe that merely because there is a photograph of Jesus Christ in the house would ipso facto mean that a person had converted himself into Christianity.” This decision emphasizes the value of evidence and documentation in such findings, as well as the risks of relying on religious symbols to provide proof of conversion.
The petitioner presented needed official documentation identifying him, his father, and other blood relatives as members of the ‘Mahar’ group, proving their claim to Scheduled Caste status.
The court accepted the argument that the portrait of Jesus Christ was a gift that was kept in the house rather than evidence of a conversion. In contrast, the government failed to present any baptismal certificate or actual evidence to support the assumption that the girl had converted to Christianity.
The court was clear in its decision, stating, “What more proof was required to be considered by the committee who appears to have turned Nelson’s eye to this glaring document apart from three validity certificates which have already been granted by it in support of blood relatives of the petitioner.”
This is only one of several cases currently before the Supreme Court, including petitions from Christian and Muslim groups seeking affirmative action benefits. They claim that the government’s religious discrimination against Dalits is unjust, considering that almost half of India’s Christian and Muslim populations come from Dalit and native tribes.
This current decision focuses on the need to use an effective and evidence-based approach for identifying caste positions. instead of relying on superficial signs such as religious symbols in a family. It acts like a reminder that despite any beliefs, equality and justice should be the core values of India’s affirmative action policy.