The court's decision assumes much significance in the backdrop of 'Ghar Wapsi' reconversion campaign introduced by the Hindu right-wing group Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) last year. Earlier this month, VHP had claimed that it had reconverted over 33,000 persons and had 'prevented' over 48,000 conversions.
It was a petition filed by a father and daughter whose forefathers belonged to Hindu Cheramar community that was considered by the court. Those who approached the court were 46-year-old MA Chandraboss of Ramapuram in Kottayam and his 18-year-old daughter Alida. They were born as Christians as Chandraboss' father had converted to Christianity. In 2009, Chandraboss and his family reconverted to Hinduism by undergoing 'Shudhi Karma' under the auspices of Arya Samaj.
Chandraboss' daughter Alida appeared for the common entrance examination this year and sought admission in the SC/ST quota. However, her claim to SC/ST quota was rejected on the basis of an anthropological report by a state government agency named Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development Studies (KIRTADS). An appeal filed before the government against this also came to be dismissed.
At the high court, their counsel G Krishnakumar argued that though they had converted to Christianity, they retained the essential character of the caste to which they belonged and suffered the disabilities and disadvantages of other members of their caste.
Opposing the claim, state government submitted that the petitioners, having born into Christianity and having lived as Christians till their reconversion, are to be treated as Christians and not as a scheduled caste member. It is a conversion of convenience, the government counsel argued.
Ruling in favour of the petitioners, justice K Vinod Chandran held, "The 2nd petitioners (Chandraboss' daughter) definitely was brought up in her father's house, may be as a Christian, but a Christian-Cheramar. There being generally no accepted caste discrimination in Christianity, the identity in the Cheramar community was essentially retained."
The court further said in the judgment, "It is to be noticed that Christianity, as it is generally understood, does not have any caste discrimination and the very fact that the 1st and 2nd petitioners (Chandraboss and his daughter) were all along issued with community certificates as belonging to Christian-Cheramar would indicate that they had their origin in the Hindu-Cheramar community. Considering the question of a Christian convert reconverted to Hinduism, this court in Ponnamma's case (Ponnamma vs Regional Director, 1983) held that the child of parents who (had) converted to Christianity at the time of the birth of the child, could always convert back to Hinduism and claim the rights of the caste of her forefathers once she converts back to Hinduism. The rights of a child born as a Christian, to Schedule Caste parents who converted to Christianity, to reconvert to Hinduism and claim the rights available to a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe, was affirmed by the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court."