Michael*, a Dalit Christian man in Thanjavur district, had converted to Hinduism some years ago through the Arya Samaj, to change his Backward Class (BC) categorisation to Scheduled Caste. He’d hoped this would ease his access to reservation in jobs. He even changed his name to Manickam*, which he announced in a gazetted notification according to the procedure. Since he had converted to Hinduism, his daughter was also issued a Scheduled Caste certificate. She cleared NEET, got into a private college, and was granted a Union government scholarship meant for students from SC communities.
Activist and lawyer Henri Tiphagne tells us, “People change religions for their own convictions that should not come in the way of the affirmative action they are entitled to. Yet, this happens in many cases. Most of these individuals are unable to even fight back and reclaim what was taken from them.” He adds that now, “a larger movement against the denial of Scheduled Caste status to Christian Dalits is picking up within churches itself. The people in this movement say ‘how can we be considered Backward Class just because we changed religions? We continue to be buried in separate cemeteries, people of other castes marrying us is still considered dishonourable."
Tiphagne also notes that even Dalit bishops are buried separately. If an archbishop does the funeral ceremony of a Dalit bishop or their family member, there have been incidents where the archbishop has been assaulted. “There is caste within the church. As a student, I broke a wall erected between dominant caste Christian and Dalit Christian settlements in Tiruchy. I thought then that I had done something revolutionary, only to find out a month later that the cement wall was rebuilt with concrete. It still stands there to this day,” he says. “So, caste prevails in the church today. Therefore, the current system has to be reformed, and Dalit Christians need to be given the same constitutional empowerment that other Dalits are given.”