By Akhil Bansal : Over the past months, the government was mulling to bring in amendments to SC/ST(Prevention of Atrocities) Act,1989 and it is going forward to do so during the Budget session of Parliament next year. Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Kumari Selja said the Act needed urgent amendments in order to plug loopholes in its implementation. The statement is appreciable for its intent to plug the legal loopholes in Atrocities Act, though late, due to the efforts of various civil society organizations. But there is reference to an assumption in this statement that ‘the amendments in the Act will plug loopholes in its implementation’, a first reading of the statement suggests. This assumption seems a little awkward, more so, it transforms into a joke, when applied to the Indian context, where we have multiple laws on many subjects, but not even one is implemented or even heeded to.
Rajya Sabha MP J.D. Seelam said that there are some stupid and faulty provisions in the Act which state that crimes against Dalits will be registered under the present law only when they have been committed in ‘public view’ with ‘intention’. Such ‘stupidities’ do need to be taken care of and it is even imperative to revamp the act, as various provisions of the law are exploited if in case, a case is registered. Further, implementation works within the ambit of law, so it becomes necessary to define the contours and intent of the legislation lucidly.
But the moot question is , will it spur any change on the ground?? In a nation, where 20 Dalits and adivasis are subjected to atrocities per hour, three Dalit women rapid per day and where more than half a million cases have been registered in the past one and a half decade, little can we expect from changes here and there in the law, as the situation is crying of the absence of any law and order, leave alone implementation of any special Act.
This forces me to ask, are these exercises of periodic amendments and bringing of new laws and provisions, serve any purpose for Dalits and adivasis, or do they just serve to take the edge of the movements who support their cause. Well, I’ll go with the latter assertion, as along with SC/ST(PoA) Act,1989, we have PESA,1996, FRA,2006 and various provisions in Penal Code and Constitution, but who cares! Further, there is one thing common to all, none serves any significant purpose, which are eloquently put out in the Preambles of these acts.
The atrocities against SC/STs are a hangover of our caste system, legitimized , to a large extent, by religious forces. The Karma Theory and the belief in rebirth gives credence to the social hierarchy in the form of caste system. And these beliefs of our people are carried over into their professional life and therefore in civil and police administration, hence paralyzing the implementation machinery. Also, the ‘fear’ of losing social power by ‘so called upper castes’ , in the modern era, manifests itself in a backlash towards assertion by Dalits, who are the ‘newly enfranchised’. Further, the adivasis suffer from social exclusion and adverse inclusion in the economic system and government itself has a large part to play in this phenomenon of ‘adverse inclusion’ causing further despair, manifesting ‘sometimes’ into armed revolt, such as Naxalism. Where are the provisions and structures to check these injustices, expect in the law and rule jungle.
In a society, where customs enjoy more force than law, where social exclusion is more fearful than any fear of law and where even rakshak sides with the bhakshak, as is evident from the latest case of Haryana, where leaders come openly in support of Khaps in demanding the revision of age of marriage, how can you expect a law to do something. The inadequacies of the legal and administrative processes further aggravate this situation the the detriment of the weak.
It may seem then that making law on this subject is largely a vain exercise, well, to an extent, true. But we should also remember that the change we are witnessing today where Dalits have started demanding their rights is due to the Britishers, who were backed by the English legal system. But today , it needs a lot of on ground ‘supplements’ to support it and for its effective delivery. Firstly, community policing by including adequate number of Dalits and adivasis, as per the area requirements and a corresponding structure at the state level to take quick cognizance of any case related to SC/STs or in alternative to strengthen minority cells of the states and Commissions at the center can help tackle the situation. Further, a separate officer can be assigned, in ‘critical districts’, in police offices, who has to register complaints and investigate, taking into account that many a times, policemen are themselves biased, so he should be given the autonomy to work directly under the command of SP or above rank officers. Furthermore, separate courts for expeditious trials are required and provision of legal aid to victims should be ensured, so that the abysmally low conviction rate start reflecting the actual numbers.
These ‘supplements’, however strong they are short term measures and hold the potential to expedite the process of social transformation. But for long term, we require, along with legal framework, education, technology, handholding of the ‘emerging’ communities and everything else at our disposal which respect the cause of equality in society with an espousal change in mindset. We should take this account that the fight for Dalit cause is more than anything else, a fight against entrenched prejudices, a fight against a ‘skewed religion’, a fight against a shameful history and a fight against the thinking. Such acknowledgement by not just the government but by every member of society, with an apology to those who were exploited and are still exploited, can act as a precursor to a new environment.