Thursday, October 6, 2022

Cast away

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Crimes against marginalized sections have only spiked over the years, but laws to protect them are still inadequate.

By Vishwas Kumar

In May this year, Nitin Aage, a 17-year-old Dalit boy, was brutally killed and hanged from a tree, allegedly by three men of the Maratha community in Kharda village of Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra. His crime? He had dared to fall in love with an upper caste girl in his school. This dusty village, located 330 km from Mumbai, had no previous history of caste violence, but the divide between the upper and lower castes was rigidly enforced here.

Aage’s case is not an isolated one. It is part of spiralling violence against the Dalit community. The figures bear this out. National Crime Records Bur-eau (NCRB) statistics reveal that in 2011, crimes reported against Scheduled Castes (SCs) numbered 33,719, in comparison to 32,712 in 2010, a 3 percent increase. Similarly, there were 673 cases of murder of SCs in 2011, as compared to 570 in 2010, an increase of 18.1 percent. Uttar Pradesh (UP) leads with 42.5 percent here, followed by Madhya Pradesh at 14.7 percent. Dalit women were especially vulnerable. In 2011, 1,557 cases of rape of SC women were reported, as compared to 1,349 cases in 2010, an increase of 15.4 percent. UP again led, with 25.5 percent of the total number of rape cases, followed by Madhya Pradesh (MP) with 21 percent. And how can one forget the recent rapes and hangings of two dalit cousins in Badaun district of UP?

Fortunately, Scheduled Tribes (STs), ano-ther vulnerable community, fared better. A total of 5,756 criminal cases were reported against them in 2011, as compared to 5,885 in 2010, a decrease of 2.19 percent.

These statistics clearly establish that existing legal provisions to protect and stop atrocities against dalits and tribals have failed. The SCs and STs Prevention of Atrocities (POA) Act, 1989, has proved to be ineffective even 20 years after it came into existence. In a bid to get the government to amend this act in view of its ineffectiveness, around 400 dalit, tribal and human rights organizations joined hands in 2009 to form the National Coalition for Strengthening the POA Act (NCSPA).

Its efforts led to the UPA-II government introducing a bill to amend the POA Act in the Lok Sabha at the fag-end of its tenure on December 6, 2013. However, the government failed to build a consensus in parliament to pass the bill. So, it promulgated an ordinance in March 2014 to bring in new amendments.

Aborted again

Under the new Modi government, Thaawar Chand Gehlot, minister for social justice and empowerment, reintroduced the bill in
parliament on July 16, but unfortunately, it was referred to a standing committee.

NCSPA members ,feel that the government is adopting delaying tactics. They have appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to show his trademark “decisiveness” and act on the promises made during his election campaign to “accord the highest priority for ensuring their security, especially prevention of atrocities against SCs & STs.”

NCSPA’s national convener and ex-bureaucrat PS Krishnan, says: “We are confident that the bill will be passed in both houses of parliament once it is introduced, discussed and voted. We fail to understand why the bill was sent to the standing committee. Already, enough discussions have taken place on it by all concerned stake-holders.”

Krishnan’s confidence may not be misplaced. SCs and STs comprise a big chunk of the vote bank—25 percent—and it is highly unlikely that politicians would want to antagonize them.

But why have atrocities against Dalit continued even into the 21st century? Krishnan says that the violence is rooted in economic factors. “Caste violence has increased due to a clash of economic interests. While the upper castes still control land, they need the lower castes to work there. Any refusal to do so or a demand for fair remuneration leads to clashes and violence. A survey of a village in Haryana revealed that land holdings had not changed in the past 20 years. Lower castes there control just 2 percent of land,” he says.

It’s obvious that till mindset of the upper classes changes, no real change will take place despite legislation.

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