Tarleen Kaur: Prevention Of Atrocities Against SCs And STs
Incidents of atrocities committed by higher castes on members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes continue to be reported from almost all the parts of the country in varying numbers. Article 46 of the Constitution of India provides that-
“The State shall promote with special; care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.”
Further, the terms Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe have been defined under Articles 366(24) and 366(25) respectively of the Constitution of India.
In order to protect and empower the Dalits and the Adivasis under Article 15 and Article 23 of in Constitution, the following enactments have been made:
- The Untouchability (offences) Act,1955, later amended and retitled as the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.
- The Bonded Labour System (Abolition)Act, 1976.
However, the above laws failed to deliver any real results. And the cases and severity of atrocities against the Dalits and the Adivasis continued to increase.
The normal provisions of these existing laws namely, the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 and Indian Penal Code have been found inadequate to check these atrocities continuing the gross indignities and offences against Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Recognizing these, the Parliament passed ‘Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act’, 1989 & Rules, 1995.
Also Read: SHeBox and online complaint registration
THE SCHEDULED CASTES AND SCHEDULED TRIBES (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) ACT, 1989
This Act delineates specific crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as atrocities, and describes strategies and prescribes punishments to counter these acts. The Act attempts to curb and punish violence against Dalits through three broad means.
Firstly, it identifies what acts constitute “atrocities.”
Secondly, the Act calls upon all the states to convert an existing session’s court in each district into a Special Court to try cases registered under the POA.
Thirdly, the Act creates provisions for states to declare areas with high levels of caste violence to be “atrocity- prone” and to appoint qualified officers to monitor and maintain law and order.
Later in the year 1995 Scheduled Castes and Scheduled (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules were enacted by the government using the section 23 of the act to fortify the measures to curb the menace.
THE SCHEDULED CASTES AND SCHEDULED TRIBES (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) AMENDMENT BILL, 2014
The Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment (Chairperson: Mr. Ramesh Bais) submitted its report on the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014 on December 19, 2014. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 16, 2014. It was referred to the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment on
September 16, 2014. The Bill seeks to amend the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. It provides for several modifications including:
(i) New categories of offences (such as, garlanding Scheduled Castes or Scheduled
Tribes with footwear and preventing them from using common property resources);
(ii) Setting up of exclusive special courts for trial of offences under the Act;
(iii) Duties of public servants under the Act; and
(iv) Rights of victims and witnesses. The Committee endorsed amending the Act, but
recommended certain modifications to the Bill.
New offences: The Committee recommended that the following acts may be made punishable offences: (i) registration of false cases under the Act, (ii) acquiring false Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe certificates and claiming reservation benefits in jobs, admissions, etc., and (iii) entering into an inter-caste marriage to procure the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe status so as to acquire land or fight elections. With respect to false and malicious complaints filed under the Act, the Committee noted that relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 are insufficient, and a provision addressing this problem should be included within the Act. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 provides for a similar clause.
Special Courts for women: Atrocities against women belong to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe should be tried by special courts for women with women judges and women public prosecutors preferably belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe community. The Committee recommended that the Bill provide for special courts for women. The amendments serve evidence to the reality that the committal of atrocities against the dalits and the adivasis has become an evolving menace. The inclusion of new offences talks volume of the cruelty that exists today.
PARLIAMENT PASSES SCHEDULED CASTES AND SCHEDULED TRIBES (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) AMENDMENT BILL, 2018
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018 which was passed by the Look Sabha on 6th August 2018, has been passed by the Rajya Sabha .
Point-wise details: Section 18A has been inserted to nullify conduct of a preliminary enquiry before registration of an FIR, or to seek approval of any authority prior to arrest of an accused, and to restore the provisions of Section 18 of the Act.
Section 18A, inserted in the Act, states that:-
(1) For the purpose of the PoA Act,-
(a) Preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of a First Information Report against any person; or
(b) The investigating officer shall not require approval for arrest, if necessary, of any person, against whom an accusation of having committed an offence under the PoA Act has been made and no procedure other than provided under the PoA Act or the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, shall apply.
(2) The provision of section 438 of the Code shall not apply to a case under the Act, notwithstanding any judgment or order or direction of any Court.
SUBHASH KASHINATH MAHAJAN vs. THE STATE OF MAHARASHTRA [Review of SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act ]
- Supreme Court opined that SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA act) is being misused and checks are needed to prevent such misuse.
- The act has become a tool to persecute innocents and public servants for political and personal gains.
- Provided guidelines for preventing the misuse of the act.
- Preliminary inquiry at the level of DSP is required to verify the authenticity of the case before registering FIR.
- A person can be released on anticipatory bail unless a prima facie case of crimes or atrocities is made out.
- No FIR should be registered against government servants without the approval of the appointing authority.
- PoA act had to be interpreted in a manner which will ensure that “casteism is not perpetuated” through the implementation of the law.
- Many law experts are of the view that this judgement is without considering the socio-cultural realities of caste atrocities.
- The judgement didn’t give any statistical pieces of evidence but relied on several High Court judgements.
- It equated high rate of acquittals to a large number of false cases.
- But increasing acquittal can’t be the reason for the case being false.
- Entrenched discrimination and prejudice of the establishment are one of the reasons of acquittals.
- Another reason can be intimidation of victims, their survivors, and witnesses by various means including a social and economic boycott.
RECENT PROTESTS AND THE REVIEW PETITION AGAINST THE SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT
There was a national strike by Dalits against the judgment which turned violent leading to loss of lives. The Center has given review petition against the judgment. However, the Supreme Court has refused to keep in abeyance its earlier order preventing automatic arrests on complaints filed under the SC/ST Act.
PoA act is a transformative act in the arsenal of hapless Dalits to fight their historically asymmetrical war of subjugation. It should be strengthened through proper implementation. But safeguards should also be inserted to protect innocents from being falsely persecuted.
Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs. The State of Maharashtra judgment should be used as an opportunity to look into this dimension rather than weakening the act. But the most important thing for ending discrimination and improving fraternity is a persistent societal action to change the entrenched caste rigidity. SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA act) as a tool in this endeavor rather than an end in itself.
By socio-cultural upliftment of SC/ST through their meaningful integration into society, by giving adequate capacity building opportunities through education, employment etc. must be the end of this struggle.
Besides the government role, the civil society also needs to make efforts to hold the political, judicial and penal systems accountable for such failures. The number of PILs filed by them is a silver lining in the grim scenario.
Often it is found that the legislation is competent but it is the incompetency of the concerned authorities that make it impotent. The class-bias of the police and the insensitivity of the judiciary in lower courts must be tackled. The civil society must play its role in spreading awareness among the vulnerable and make efforts to make the system accountable.
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