Law protecting Dalit and Adivasi rights should not be weakened

By Amnesty International India
Bengaluru/ New Delhi: 30 April 2018 6:56 pm

The central government should heed the demands of Dalit and Adivasi communities and prevent the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Amnesty International India said today, ahead of planned protests across the country on 1 May.

On 20 March 2018, the Supreme Court issued directions in the Subhash Kashinath vs. State of Maharashtra case stating, among other things, that the police could register a First Information Report under the Atrocities Act only after completing a ‘preliminary inquiry’, and that a government official could be arrested under the Act only with the permission of their superiors. The Court claimed that the measures were needed to prevent the misuse of the legislation, which was being used as “an instrument to blackmail or to wreak personal vengeance”.

“The Supreme Court judgement will invariably shield abusers from justice, and expose victims of discrimination and violence to threats and intimidation,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

“Fair trial rights must always be defended. But the Court’s cherry-picking of statistics to reach the dubious conclusion that the Atrocities Act is being particularly misused is worrying, and ignores the everyday violence that Dalits and Adivasis face in this country.”

The judgement relied on official data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) about cases closed as ‘false’ by the police, and low rates of conviction in criminal trials, to conclude that the Act had been misused. However rights organizations say that Dalits and Adivasis often do not report crimes to the police for fear of reprisal by dominant caste groups, and also that the police are frequently reluctant to register crimes when they are reported. In those cases that do lead to investigation and trial, victims and survivors frequently face harassment, intimidation and discrimination from dominant caste groups and police personnel.

NCRB data reveals a steady decrease in rates of conviction and completion of trials in cases of crimes against Dalits and Adivasis over the last few years. According to the NCRB’s 2016 data, the conviction rate for crimes under the Act is only 15%, compared to 47% for all crimes under the Indian Penal Code. About 90% of trials for crimes against Scheduled Castes and 87% of trials for crimes against Scheduled Tribes registered under the Act were yet to be completed at the end of 2016.

“The criminal justice system has failed the victims of caste-based massacres such as Bathani Thola, Kambalapalli and Khairlanji,” said Aakar Patel. “The dilution of the Atrocities Act will only make it harder for Dalits and Adivasis to get justice for crimes against them, and could erode the faith of historically marginalised communities in the criminal justice system.” 

“Lawmakers would do well to listen to the voices of those who will take to the streets tomorrow to demand justice and equality.”

Background

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was enacted in 1989 to tackle discrimination and violence against Dalit and Adivasi people. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the legislation stated: “Despite various measures to improve the socio-economic of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes they remain vulnerable. They are denied a number of civil rights. They are subjected to various offences, indignities, humiliations and harassments. They have, in several brutal incidents, been deprived of their life and properties, serious crimes are committed against them for various historical, social and economic reasons.” In 2015, the Act was amended to cover a broader range of offences. However implementation of the Act has been poor.

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