As we are all aware, members of vulnerable communities in India organized mass protests on 2nd April 2018 against a Supreme Court ruling, which activists say will likely dilute a stringent law that was enacted to address atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, the rate of crimes against Dalits, who number more than 200 million, has risen in recent years. Reuters News Agency reports that Government data shows that by the end of 2016, about 90 percent of roughly 145,000 cases involving Dalits were still awaiting trial. Government data also shows that less than a tenth of the cases brought by Dalits in 2016 were proven to be false. In a democracy the people, who are weak, are protected by the law; the courts work for them. Hence the concern and campaign of the vulnerable sections of society for justice that assures them of protection of their lives, land and livelihood.
Dalits who constitute 16.63 percent and Tribals who constitute 8.6 percent of the Indian population, are a social minority. Dalits and Tribals/Adivasis have realized that arrests under the ST/SC (Prevention of Atrocities) Act have worked as a great deterrent.
The key features of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, (http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=135764) are:
- New offences of atrocities like tonsuring of head, moustache, or similar acts which are derogatory to the dignity of members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, garlanding with chappals, denying access to irrigation facilities or forest rights , dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or to dig graves, using or permitting manual scavenging, dedicating a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe women as devadasi, abusing in caste name, perpetrating witchcraft atrocities, imposing social or economic boycott, preventing Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes candidates from filing of nomination to contest elections, hurting a Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes woman by removing her garments, forcing a member of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe to leave house , village or residence, defiling objects sacred to members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe, touching or using words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe.
- Addition of certain IPC offences like hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation, kidnapping etc., attracting less than ten years of imprisonment, committed against members of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe, as offences punishable under the PoA Act. Presently, only those offences listed in IPC as attracting punishment of 10 years or more and committed on members of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe are accepted as offences falling under the PoA Act.
- Establishment of Exclusive Special Courts and specification of Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors also, to exclusively try the offences under the PoA Act to enable speedy and expeditious disposal of cases.
- Power of Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts, to take direct cognizance of offence and as far as possible, completion of trial of the case within two months, from the date of filing of the charge sheet.
- Addition of chapter on the ‘Rights of Victims and Witnesses’.
- Defining clearly the term ‘wilful negligence’ of public servants at all levels, starting from the registration of complaint, and covering aspects of dereliction of duty under this Act.
- Addition of presumption to the offences – If the accused was acquainted with the victim or his family, the court will presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise.
SC/ST people, who are most vulnerable on account of corruption, criminalization and communal grounds, are threatened, victimized and pressurized by unsocial elements. Therefore, the ruling of the Supreme Court on March 20, 2018 which does away with immediate arrests gives rise to the apprehensions of the vulnerable minorities that perpetrators of violence will get away without being immediately taken to task for their criminal acts.. Hence the importance and urgency of protection and immediate action against the perpetrators of atrocities on them.
The State with all its mechanisms and the Society have to ensure that vulnerable communities are granted due protection against atrocities and that the injustices of the caste system are rooted out.
|Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad
National Council of Churches in India.
|Mr. Pradip Bansrior
Dalit and Tribal / Adivasi Concerns, NCCI.