Vol. XLII No. 14 April 08, 2018

Dilution of SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act: Murder of Social Justice

G Mamatha

ELEVEN of our brothers were killed on April 2. It seems they were ‘misled’ by some ‘vested interests’ to participate in the protests. Protesting for dignity and equality, they gave up their lives. To desire to live a dignified life and an egalitarian life, is natural. To detest any attack on such desires is natural. To participate in a protest against any such attack is human nature. It is these natural feelings that motivated the protesters and not any ‘vested interests’. Unfortunately (or is it wantonly), some noble souls are either blind or cannot understand these natural feelings!

It seems innocent people are ‘terrorised’ by the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. These ‘innocent upper-caste’ people got so terrorised on seeing a dalit owning and riding a horse in Bhavnagar in Gujarat that they had killed the 21-year youngster using sharp weapons. The police who are ‘studying’ the case, analysing the CCTV footage, have identified three people for this. Mark it, they had IDENTIFIED. Now with the Supreme Court judgement diluting the POA Act, only those ‘noble souls’ will know, what will happen in such instances.

Let’s contrast this with what the police, from whom the ‘innocent people’ are sought to be ‘protected’ have done with the protesting dalits. Forget the death of the eleven ‘misled’ youth. A day after the protest, in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, the police, after analysing the CCTV footage of the protests, have ‘lodged reports against 5,000 unidentified and 285 named miscreants under various sections of the IPC’. Further, ‘32 agitators have been arrested and raids are being conducted to arrest others’. So whoever is left alive after the protests, are now being identified, raided and arrested. That’s the unbiased ‘hands of law’, which are ‘so long’ that they reach any nook and corner! Let the message reach out, loud and clear – you, who are not even supposed to raise your voice, are not PERMITTED to protest. Simple.

According to union minister of state for home, Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, 47,338 cases of crime against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were registered across the country in 2016. Not all of them are cases registered under the provisions of the POA Act. And even in those rare instances, where the cases are registered under the POA Act, the investigations are carried out with such a conviction that the conviction rate in 2016 was a ‘high’ of 25.8 per cent! Remember what happened in Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe, Karamchedu, etc, etc. Dalits get killed, raped, maimed, beaten, tortured, boycotted and harassed, but the law has such ‘beautiful’ and ‘sharp eyes’ that no one, who treated dalits thus, is punished.

After the BJP had come to power in 2014, attacks on dalits have increased manifold. There is Saharanpur before us, Una and many more. Forget all of them. There is a news report doing rounds, where a video has come to light of a known BJP worker shooting dalit protesters in Gwalior. Not satisfied with killing dalits, even the revered Babasaheb Ambedkar’s, statues are beheaded. In Rajasthan’s Karauli district, the day after the April 2 bandh, dalits were asked to show their identity cards and after ascertaining that they were dalits, they were beaten up by the upper castes. Their houses were destroyed. Those indulging in such acts are so ‘afraid’ of the POA Act, that they openly call for the destruction of the statues of not only Ambedkar, but also Periyar, and any such personality who stood for dalit empowerment and equality.

Can we state that equality exists in a society where you are not allowed to own a horse or ride it, study in an ‘elite’ university like the Hyderabad Central University or eat according to your taste or dress according to your sense and marry who you wish? Years have rolled, rulers have changed, but certain things remain constant. One who was called Sambhuka yesterday, is called Rohith today. One who was called Ekalavya yesterday is called Pradeep today. Those who were responsible for the crime on Sambhuka or Ekalavya are unpunished then and now. And we have judges who swear by the constitution, but state that ‘reservations’ have destroyed the country.

A section among the upper-caste people believe that it is their government, which is in power. They are confident that the government will not act against them and more than that, that it will protect them, come what may.

But times, they are changing. Protests yesterday are not the same as protests today. These days, lot more anger is visible. There is a feeling developing – enough is enough. Many youngsters are realising the injustice meted out to them and are starting to question. Their assertion and questioning is disliked by the ‘upper-castes’ who realise it as a challenge to their hegemony.

Some of the ‘noble souls’ say that they intend to put ‘dalits on a higher pedestal’, all the while attacking dalits and diluting whatever legal protections dalits are guaranteed by the Constitution. They fail to realise that dalits do not desire to sit on a ‘higher pedestal’, nor they want to be ‘treated’ as Gods. All that the dalits are desiring is, an equal treatment. It is for this reason that eleven of our brothers, who stood in the forefront of the struggles are now no more with us. Dilution of the POA Act will further widen the schism and embolden all those who humiliate and discriminate us. Dilution of the POA Act will make ‘equality’ a mirage. In the name of protecting ‘few innocents’, 20 crore dalits’ rights guaranteed by the Constitution are being diluted.

Any attack on dalit rights is music to the ears of RSS and its parivar. They feel emboldened by all such attacks. RSS, which stands in defence of the Manu Smriti, is committed to the philosophy of varna. Being in power for the last four years, they have sincerely worked to increase the schisms in the society. Caste and religious fissures are widened. They are doing all they can – budget allocations are being cut, public sector is being privatised, laws are being diluted and dissent curtailed – to ensure that dalits and other backward sections in the society remain at the bottom of social pyramid. In this background, it is but natural for them to remain silent for such a length of time after the Court verdict on the POA Act. They wanted to utilise the court judgement to further their agenda. It is only the protests organised by the dalit organisations that have forced the government to intervene and request the court to rescind its order.

It required the sacrifice of eleven of our brothers to force the government to wake up from its slumber. It is the presence of thousands of us on the roads that forced the government to intervene and plead the court to change its order. This once again demonstrates the power of our collective. Undeterred by the attacks on us, we should preserve our unity and work towards strengthening it. Babasaheb has always wanted us to ‘unite’, ‘organise’ and ‘act’. In the background of all round attacks, it is time for us ‘unite, organise and act’. Only thus will we be living a dignified life and walk towards an egalitarian society. Only that will be the homage we can pay to our eleven brothers who lost their lives for our cause.