The Union government has opposed the Scheduled Caste status for Dalits who converted to Islam and Christianity, contending that the system of untouchability does not exist in the two religions, Live Law reported on Wednesday.

The Centre has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in response to a petition by the non-governmental organisation Centre for Public Interest Litigation. The organisation claims that the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950, which says that only Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs will be considered to be Scheduled Castes, is unconstitutional as it discriminates on grounds of religion.

“The Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950 was based on historical data which clearly established that no such backwardness or oppression was ever faced by members of Christian or Islamic society,” the Centre told the court. “In fact, one of the reasons for which people from Scheduled Castes have been converting to religions like Islam or Christianity is so that they can come out of the oppressive system of untouchability which is not prevalent at all in Christianity or Islam.”

The government also said that there was no research available to show that handicaps faced by Dalits in the social order of origin persisted in “oppressive severity in the environment of Christianity/Islam”, The Hindu reported.

However, in one part of the affidavit, the Centre appeared to contradict itself as it said: “There is authentic data to suggest that the oppressive environment which existed in Hindu Society for hundreds of years qua Scheduled Castes also existed in Christian or Islamic Society.”

The Centre also sought to differentiate between the conversion of Dalits to Buddhism and the conversion to Islam and Christianity.

“Scheduled Castes converts to Buddhism embraced Buddhism voluntarily at the call of Dr. Ambedkar in 1956 on account of some innate socio-political imperatives,” the affidavit said. “The original castes/community of such converts can clearly be determined. This cannot be said in respect of Christians and Muslims who might have converted on account of other factors since the process of conversions has taken place over the centuries.”

The Centre also said that the case before the court dealt with the classification between Indian citizens and foreigners, even though the petitions do not seek reservations for foreign nationals.

“It is submitted that the present is a case of classification between Indian citizens and foreigners which cannot be doubted on any count,” the affidavit said. “It is well established that Article 14 forbids class legislation but does not forbid classification.”