Caste is not religion: Bombay High Court

Mumbai: Caste is not equivalent to religion and people who cite their religion as their castes cannot be given any benefit of reservation, ruled the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court recently. The HC further said when a person claims to belong to some caste then s/he must show bonafides and submit relevant documents to substantiate the claim. A bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and Shreeram Modak delivered the ruling while dismissing a plea filed by a 21-year-old girl seeking reservation. The girl, a Jain, claimed to belong to Saitwal caste, which was included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) in March 2006.

“Caste is not equivalent to religion and religion is not a caste,” observed Justice Shukre in his judgment. “So, a person of Jain religion claiming to be of Saitwal caste would ordinarily mention that caste in a document which requires a statement on caste to be made and if he states that his caste is Jain, which in fact is a religion, the necessary inference would be that he makes no claim of belonging to any caste and he believes only in his religious identity,” Justice Shukre said.

If such a person, later on, makes a claim about his belonging to a certain caste, after noticing that the said caste comes with ‘newly added advantages,’ it would reasonably imply that the person has an eye on those advantages, the judges said. “Thus, the claim lacks bonafides, unless some reasonable explanation is offered to explain the failure to mention the said caste earlier. Without such justification, the failure would only expose the falsity of the claim made by such a person,” the bench said.

The bench dismissed the plea of this girl, who relied upon the school leaving certificate of her grandfather, who had mentioned his caste as Jain. The girl too had been mentioning her caste as Jain but after learning the inclusion of Saitwal caste, she sought reservation benefits. “The document discloses that the grandfather’s caste was Jain. It does not disclose him as belonging to Saitwal caste,” the judges noted. The girl through her counsel tried to justify her case saying that as the caste Saitwal had no significance earlier, the persons belonging to this caste, only disclosed their caste as Jain.

“It is an admitted position that the caste Saitwal is intrinsic to Jain religion and that is the reason why the State Backward Classes Commission recommended its inclusion in the list of OBCs. But the inclusion of such caste into the list would not absolve the petitioner of her responsibility to show the bonafides of the concerned person in his failure to mention the caste in this document,” the bench said.
The judges, accordingly, dismissed her petition.

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