By Harsh Dabas
Edited By Ms. Ragini Sehgal
A FIRM STANCE AND RIOTS
‘He is not a leader to me. He wanted to destroy my whole community.‘ asserted Immanuvel Devendrar, during the peace meeting between two communities Paiilars and Thevars, which were involved in a high-stake dispute during the midst of the 1957 Elections. However, when Thevar entered the room Devendrar refused to stand up and cited the line mentioned in the beginning. This angered Thevar so much that the talks ended surreptitiously.
Immanuvel, who served in the British Indian Army was from the Paiilar caste, which faced brutal oppression from the Thevar and other high-castes from historic times, and faced 9 points of discrimination. However, his time in the Army caused him to question this discrimination.
Days after this incident, he was conspired against and cornered by a mob of Thevars and was gruesomely murdered. This prompted the Ramnad Riots in which many Dalits and Thevars were killed.
Over the years, many abhorrent riots targeting the Scheduled Castes and Tribes with increasing severity and frequency occurred in the country such as the 1957 Ramnad riots, the 1968 Kilvenmani massacre, the 1978 Villupuram atrocity where countless lives were lost. Even though Article 15 enshrined in our Indian Constitution gives out the right against discrimination, discrimination against SCs/STs ensued. Actively prohibited by Article 17, this vile practice of untouchability, segregation and discrimination continues.
On 15th August 1987, the then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi dropped a hint that legislation could be rolled out, if required, to curb the ugly discrimination and desecration of Human Rights.
After two years, the said legislation rolled out from the Parliament. Named – The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, aimed at curbing the discrimination and atrocities against SCs/STs.
OBJECTIVE OF THE ACT
The act’s main objectives are:
- To prevent the commission of offences of atrocities against themembersof the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
- To provide for Special Courts for the trial of such offences.
- The relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences and matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
ATROCITY AND WHAT THE ACT LAYS DOWN
It is quintessential to consider the meaning of the term – Atrocities, and to what extent the said conduct falls under Atrocities. Until this act’s inception, Atrocities were not defined by Law. Under the Act, this conduct is punishable under sections 3(1) and 3(2).
It refers to any conduct of being abhorrently inhumane and vile, aimed at fragmenting the self-esteem and humility of SCs and STs, curbing of economic, democratic freedom and many social rights, discrimination, exploitation, and misuse of the legal process.
Commonly it is referred to as the crimes against the SCs/STs and the act lays down 22 offences as Atrocious Acts.
FEATURES OF THE ACT
- Creation of new types of offences not in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 (PCRA).
- Commission of offences only by specified persons i.e. barbarity can be committed only by non-SCs and non-STs on members of the SC or ST communities. Crimes among SCs and STs or between STs and SCs do not come under the purview of this Act. Kanubhai M. Parmar v. the State of Gujarat, that if the offence is committed by persons belonging to Scheduled Caste against Scheduled Caste members, they cannot be prosecuted and punished under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
- Defines various types of atrocities against SCs/STs. Section 3(1) i to xv and 3(2) i to vii.
- Prescribes strict punishment for such atrocities (Section 3(1)i to xv and 3(2)i to vii).
- Enhanced the quality of punishment for some offences (Section 3(2) i to vii, 5).
- Enhanced minimum punishment for public servants (Section 3(2) vii).
- Penalty for delinquency of duties by a public servant (Section 4).
- Attachment and forfeiture of property (Section 7).
- Externment of potential offenders (Section 10(1), 10(3), 10(3)).
- Creation of Special Courts (Section 14). In Mangal Prasad v. Additional Session Judge, the court held that the Court below has been appointed as a special Judge within the meaning of Section 2(d) of the Act but unless the accused is sent to him by the Magistrate, he cannot take any cognizance of the offence under Section 14 of the said Act and he also cannot act as a Magistrate in exercising his power or in taking the cognizance of the Act like a Magistrate or to send that complaint petition to the concerned police station under Section 156 (3), Criminal Procedure
- Appointment of Special Public Prosecutors (Section 15).
- Empowers the government to impose collective fines (Section 16).
- ERASURE of arms licenses in the areas labeled where an atrocity may take place or has taken place (Rule 3iii) and clasp all illegal firearms (Rule 3iv).
- Grant arms licenses to SCs and STs (Rule 3v).
- Denial of anticipatory bail (Section 18).
- Denial of probation to convict (Section 19).
- Provides reimbursement, relief, and rehabilitation for victims of atrocities or their legal heirs (Section 17(3), 21(2) iii, Rule 11, 12(4)).
- Identification of atrocity-prone areas (Section 17(1), 21(2) vii, Rule 3(1)).
- Setting up a hindrance to avoid committing atrocities on the SCs amongst others (Rule 3i to 3xi).
- Setting up a mandatory, periodic monitoring system at different levels (Section 21(2)v):
- District level (Rule 3xi, 4(2), 4(4), 17).
- State-level (8xi, 14, 16, 18).
- National level (Section 21(2), 21(3), 21(4)).
STRENGTHENING ITS GRIP (2015 AMENDMENT)
In 2015, the Central Government amended the provisions of the Act and made it more robust with the classification of wide-ranging conducts as atrocities, and the provision of anticipatory bail denial was also introduced.
A few chapters were also added and ‘Willful Negligence’ for public officials aimed at covering the possible dereliction of duties discharged by the public servant. A presumption of caste principle was also set up, which would have to be proved otherwise.
Special courts and tribunals were also set up, with the appointment of special prosecutors to exclusively deal with cases.
LACUNAE AND UNFILLED GAPS
Even though this Act was a breakthrough in restraining and holding back the discrimination, there were a lot of gaps that prevented this Act from reaching the grassroots, where maximum discrimination happened.
The IPC and CrPC were not sufficiently amended to assist the Act, and this hampered the implementation of the Act.
Also, there was a lot of hesitation and fear among the victims to register the complaint against the perpetrators as both the victims and witnesses were extremely vulnerable to be intimidated, manipulated, and could be easily coerced, hampering the objectives of the act.
Even within the Indian Judiciary, there have been instances where the judges themselves held prejudices and one of them went too far when an Allahabad High Court judge had his chambers ‘purified’ with Ganga Jal after a Dalit judge had previously sat in that chamber before him.
In Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra & Anr, the question regarding misuse and false cases also hit the limelight, and the judgement that came out massively weakened the provisions of the Act.
The government must reinvent this Act by filling the lacunae and reducing its misuse. It is unarguably one of the few legislations which has, if used optimally, a huge potential to brighten up the social fabric of India, where caste discrimination and oppression forces millions into a lifetime of servitude, segregation, financial run-offs, and discrimination all on the basis of caste.
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