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Petition seeks implementation of the Scheduled Castes And Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act

Date : 15/12/2015

National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights vs. Union of India

This petition brings to fore the non-implementation of the Scheduled Castes And Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities), Act 1989. It seeks the intervention of the court to prevent large scale, massive and perpetual violation of rights, including the most fundamental ones viz. Article 21, guaranteed by the constitution, to a large part of the socially deprived, population. Observing the anti human deprivations forced upon them by 'custom’, for generations, specific legislations such as Untouchability Offences Act, 1955, Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the above mentioned act; as well as special provisions in the constitution have been made to protect their interests. However, even decades after implementation of the aforesaid acts, the required objective has not been achieved.

Case Details and Status

Perturbed by the age old atrocities committed on the Scheduled caste people also known as 'Dalits’ or 'untouchables’, the anti human deprivations forced upon them by 'custom’, and eager to avoid the continuing consequences, the framers of the Constitution advocated special provisions and provided that even some of the fundamental rights could be modified to mollify the plight of the "weaker sections" of the society.

The constitution also called upon the State to make laws for the purpose. Accordingly, the Union Government enacted the Untouchability Offences Act, 1955, as well as Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, and called upon for a nation wide campaign to remove the 'stigma’ of caste based atrocities from the Indian society. However, even decades after implementation of the aforesaid acts, the required objective has not been achieved. On the contrary, the situation had worsened. Reports after reports expressed the need for a more effective law and its proper implementation.
Consequently, the Union government enacted The Scheduled Castes And The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 together with The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995.

After the aforesaid enactment, numerous studies have been conducted by constitutional bodies, governmental bodies as well as reputed non-governmental bodies to study the conditions of the aforesaid Scheduled caste and tribe people. Even after 15 years of the enactment of the Act of 1989, atrocities are unabated, victims unaided, and might of the state is used more to defend the culprits, or and very often simply to ignore.

Act of 1989 has been and is being sabotaged in the following ways:

1. Under reporting of the cases under the Act of 1989 is a very common phenomenon.

2. Secondly the victims are deterred from making complaints of atrocities and as a result First Information Reports (FIR s) are rarely registered or registered late. Thus, many atrocities were left without being prosecuted.

3. The non-registration of cases, apart from reflecting caste bias and corruption, has also been attributed to the pressure on the police to keep reported crime rates low in their jurisdiction.

4. Besides non-registration of cases despite merit, there were delays in investigation, collusion with offenders and manipulation of witnesses and evidence of all, which contributed to reduce the effectiveness of legislation on atrocities.

5. The accused are invariably not arrested and allowed to roam free.

6. The police deter the victims by colluding with accused persons in filing false counter cases. As a result of the counter cases, the real SC victims of the atrocities are being arrested and subjected to criminal litigation as accused in the counter cases.

Justice K Punnayya Commission Report highlighted the increasing prevalence of false counter cases being filed against Dalit victims of atrocities. This indicates a backlash, taking place against Dalits who have started to file cases of atrocities and the retaliating dominant castes utilizing this method in a concerted effort to eventually render the Act of 1989 disfunctional.

7. The compensation for relief and rehabilitation, prescribed under the Act is invariably not paid. Immediate relief includes food, water, clothing, shelter, medical aid, transport facilities and other essential items necessary for the Dalit victims, while longer term relief is specified in the Act, varying according to the nature of the offence.

The effect is to deny Dalits an ability to reshape their lives after an atrocity has taken place, to compensate for loss of earning incurred as a result of the atrocity, or to rebuild destroyed properties.

8. The problem, of ineffective legal aid to the Schedule castes has been identified. A study made by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has found that no such special legal assistance as envisaged by the Act of 1989 was extended to SC s and ST s even in one of the thousands of cases looked into by them. Victims are left to the due process of law without the help of any lawyer. On the other hand, the accused persons have recourse to good lawyers. . In cases of atrocities, where SC s are victims, public prosecutors conduct the cases; their competence and performance are often found questionable.

9. Despite numerous carnages on members of the SC community, where mass scale murders/ rapes/ destruction of property have taken place and reported, collective fine is never imposed even in serious cases.

10. Investigations are often not done by the Dy. SP but by the junior officers rendering the trial illegal.

11. Declaration of an area as atrocity prone has hardly ever been done. The States have not taken any interest in identifying atrocities prone areas even though they have access to district based crime figures against the Scheduled Castes, in addition to various reports, which their own field machinery generates.

12. Not citing proper Sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 so as to dilute the seriousness of the offence and help the perpetrators get a minor punishment, if convicted.

A deeply embedded caste bias that is evident in the attitude of the police is due to numerous reasons. The fact that most police and revenue officers belong to the dominant castes, police personnel not being sensitized, corruption, and unawareness of legal provisions all attribute to this attitude.

Another impediment in the operation of this act is the weak economic and social position, of the survivors of atrocities from the Scheduled Castes, who often find it difficult to seek the benefit of provisions enacted for their protection under criminal laws. Most often, they cannot afford to forego wages for days in attending the Courts, nor can they afford the expenses for travel, papers and counsels.

All wings of the State share the blame in failing the people they are supposed to protect. The NHRC Report categorically states that the largest blame may go to the executive, which administers all laws and programmes.

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes remain vulnerable. They are denied a number of civil rights and are subjected to various indignities, humiliations and harassment. They have, in several brutal incidents, been deprived of their life and property. Due to the awareness created amongst the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes through spread of education, etc. they are trying to assert their rights and resist practices of untouchability against them by demanding statutory minimum wages or refusing to do any bonded and forced labour. In response, the vested interests try to cow them down and terrorize them. There has been an increase in the disturbing trend of commission of certain atrocities like asking the Scheduled Caste persons to eat inedible substances like human excreta and attacks on and mass killings of helpless Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and rape of women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

In the given scenario this petition seeks the immediate and effective implementation of the Scheduled Castes And Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities), Act 1989

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