On March 20, 2018, the Supreme Court passed an order that significantly diluted the provisions of The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The Court issued guidelines to guarantee protection for public servants and private individuals from “arbitrary and immediate arrest” under The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The judgment will have adverse consequences, particularly in the context of the growing number of atrocities that affect the country’s most oppressed sections. According to the Court’s directive, action against public servants accused of hostility towards Dalits, can be taken only with the written permission of their appointing authority. For private citizens accused of a similar crime, an arrest can be made only after the Senior Superintendent of Police concerned allows it. In addition to this, the Court said there was no complete bar against granting anticipatory bail if there were no prima facie case or if, upon investigation, the case registered under the Prevention of Atrocities Act were found to be mala fide. These conditions are all entirely against the spirit of the Act.
The Act, was designed specifically to guarantee some protection to the people of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, who are the worst sufferers of every kind of exploitation, humiliation, and physical violence. Its dilution, therefore, caused anger and outrage among not only the Scheduled Caste and Tribe masses but also among all progressive people fighting against caste oppression.
Far from being “misused,” the Act has not been honestly implemented because of casteism among people in authority in the administration and the judiciary. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), crimes against people of the Scheduled Castes rose by 5.5 per cent and crimes against people of the Scheduled Tribes rose by 4.7 per cent between 2015 and 2017. According to data generated by The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, charge-sheets were registered with respect to 77 percent of the complaints received. The conviction rate, however, was only 15.4 percent.
The response to the Supreme Court verdict was spontaneous and angry. A call for a Bharat Bandh on April 2, 2018, was given by some Dalit organizations. Many other organizations extended support to the call. A massive campaign on social media followed and the bandh was unprecedented. Young Dalits, including large numbers of girls and women came out on the streets, sat on the roads and took out processions to make the bandh a success. Organisations like the DSMM also supported the bandh. The success of the bandh elicited a violent response from Sangh Parivar groups in different parts of the country, especially in BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Eight Dalits were killed, six of them by Sangh Parivar goons in Gwalior, Morena and Bhind. Some of the killers have been identified in video recordings but have not yet been arrested. In contrast, thousands of Dalits, many of them young activists, have been accused of murder and other crimes and have been arrested. Others have been beaten and humiliated. Even the elderly are being harassed.
In both States, it was found that the RSS, and Bajrang Dal and BJP Governments were complicit in violent attacks on Dalits. Even Dalit families of BJP supporters were not spared. In Rajasthan, a Dalit BJP MLA and a Dalit former Congress MLA saw their homes burnt down.
Dalit settlements in BJP-ruled States are still being threatened and attacked by RSS and Bajrang Dal persons accompanied by the police. Vicious anti-Dalit campaigns are being carried out on social media and elsewhere. Statues of Dr. Ambedkar are being desecrated. On April 10, an “Upper Caste” Bandh was announced. Although it did not have much public impact, there were attacks on Dalits on the day, particularly in Bihar.
CPI(M) welcomes the step taken by the LF Government of Kerala which has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court.
The 22nd Congress of the CPI(M) demands
• that the POA Act be brought within the purview of the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution so that it cannot be tampered with in future.
• that a judicial enquiry be ordered into the attacks on Dalits on April 2, 2018 and in the ensuing period. Those found guilty must be given exemplary punishment. False cases must be withdrawn and those kept in detention must be released.
• payment of 1 crore by respective State Governments as solatium to the families of each of those killed and adequate compensation to those injured on April 2.