The Tamil Nadu Assembly on Wednesday adopted a resolution urging the Union government to amend the Constitution to extend reservations to members of the Scheduled Caste community who have converted to Christianity.

The resolution, moved by Chief Minister MK Stalin, also sought to extend statutory protection, rights and concessions to Dalit Christians.

According to the Constitution, only Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists can legally claim Scheduled Caste status. Converted Dalits will get reservations in government jobs and colleges if their Scheduled Caste status is recognised.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief said on Wednesday that it was unfair to deny Christian Dalits the benefits of reservation enjoyed by the other members of the same community, just because they had converted to Christianity, reported The Hindu.

“While humans have the right to follow the religion of their choice, they cannot do it in the case of caste,” Stalin said in the state Assembly. “Caste is not just about the identity of two different persons. On the other hand, it treats one as higher and the other as lower. It is not horizontal, but vertical. The philosophy of social justice is to use the same casteism, a tool of oppression, to provide reservation and uplift the victims of oppression.”

The resolution was opposed by the members of Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party who walked out of the Assembly.

Stalin said that the resolution has been moved after holding discussions with legal experts, reported the newspaper. “The walkout by the BJP has confirmed that we have done it in an appropriate manner,” the chief minister added.

The Supreme Court is also hearing a batch of petitions that argue that the Scheduled Caste category should be made religion-neutral, otherwise it would amount to discriminating against people on religious grounds and, thus, be unconstitutional.

Non-governmental organisation Centre for Public Interest Litigation had filed the plea in 2004.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of the NGO, had cited the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission report released in 2007 that said Dalits in other religions are subjected to the same discrimination as in Hinduism.

In an affidavit in November, the Union government had opposed the Scheduled Caste status for Dalit converts, arguing that the system of untouchability does not exist in Christianity and Islam.

Also read: Why this Dalit Christian is angry that India awards Scheduled Caste status on the basis of faith