The Maharashtra government announced on Thursday that Neo-Buddhists would henceforth be eligible for all minority schemes in the state. In 1956, weeks before his death, Dr B R Ambedkar had converted to Buddhism at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur. Hundreds of thousands of dalits — mostly Mahars — had converted to Buddhism along with Ambedkar. Today, they are known as Neo-Buddhists.
However, as per the then law, because they had converted they could no longer avail the benefits of schemes meant for the Scheduled Castes. In 1960, the Maharashtra government amend-ed certain laws, giving the community the rights of reservation.
They were, however, still ineligible for caste-based reservations in central schemes. In 1990, the central government had made a constitutional amendment to address this anomaly but the rule was never implemented.
Over 90 per cent of the Buddhist SC population is concentrated in Maharashtra, which has 52.04 lakh Buddhists. The number has grown close to 60 per cent, from 32.51 lakh in 2001, in the state.
Under the present rules, the notified minority communities in India are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi and Jain.
Many claimed that because Neo-Buddhists were getting benefits under the SC category, they could not get the benefits meant for people belonging to the minority communities as well.
An order from the State Minority Development department said, “By religion, they are Buddhist. It is legally obligatory to consider Neo-Buddhists as Buddhists. They have automatically been eligible for minority status since 1956. They are, hence, eligible for all schemes that are there for the minority community.”