The Big Picture – Checking atrocities against Dalits
A Dalit family was set ablaze in Haryana recently. Many would term this as just another incident of violence between communities and a law and order problem. However, Such incidents show that individuals are getting lost in the identities of caste and religion. The usual politics and blame game has continued over the incident.
Reports show that atrocities against Dalits in the last decade in Haryana have increased by 271%. Various legislations and awareness programs have had a very little effect. It is also being said that the mindset of upper castes, particularly the conservative traditional people, have not changed and this is the main reason behind the rise in number of atrocities cases. It is a basic attitude problem. Caste and democracy are face to face. And Indian constitution is on trial today. It is one of those constitutions, which promised justice – social, economical and political – and that gave an affirmative action. In terms of gains, Haryana has been a success story, but it is generally said that democratic dividends are missing in Haryana.
Close to seven decades after Independence, in many villages of India the nature of certain social equations has not changed from what they have been for centuries. Such villages continue to remain what Dr. B.R. Ambedkar called “sinks of localism, dens of ignorance and narrow-mindedness”. Discrimination against Dalits is widespread and ingrained in the psyche across India, in rural settings in particular. In some places it takes the form of violent oppression, in others it is disguised yet omnipresent. These recurring incidents raise the question whether state response and constitutionalism alone are enough to overcome longstanding social injustice and prejudices.
The Constitution guarantees the right to equality of all citizens and affirmative action for Dalits. But without progressive social consciousness permeating society at large, constitutionalism, state actions and political equations simply do not suffice. It would help if the political actors also believed in and worked as conduits for social transformation.
Caste is the ultimate reality in India. In a country where most people passionately cling on to their caste identities, the prejudices and the dehumanizing culture engendered by the caste system is passed on from one generation to the next. The biggest anomaly of our democracy is that the focus has shifted away from social justice and human rights protection. The mainstream discourse stays focused on the economic, electoral and technological changes for contributing to better standards of living, but we have paid only intermittent attention to the fountainheads of inequality in our society.
To monitor atrocities perpetrated against Dalits and Adivasis and to ensure speedy justice, a unique web-based tool — Atrocity Tracking and Monitoring (ATM) System — has been launched. The initiative falls under the aegis of the National Coalition for Strengthening SC/ST PoA Act (NCSPOA) by the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ).
The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was enacted to prevent atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The Act is popularly known as POA, the SC/ST Act, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or simply the Atrocities Act.
Crime vs. atrocity
According to the Act, the term atrocity “denotes the quality of being shockingly cruel and inhumane,” whereas the term ‘crime’ relates to an act punishable by law.
It implies “any offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) committed against SCs by non-SC persons, or against STs by non-ST persons. Caste consideration as a motive is not necessary to make such an offence in case of atrocity.”
Why the atrocities?
According to the National Commission for SCs and STs, “Economic dependency of the poor on rich non-SC/ST persons, social discrimination arising out of the practice of untouchability and the age-old urge to subjugate the weakest of the weaker sections make SCs/STs vulnerable and victims of atrocities…”
The Act lists 22 offences relating to various patterns of behaviors inflicting criminal offences for shattering the self-respect and esteem of SCs and STs, denial of economic, democratic and social rights, discrimination, exploitation and abuse of the legal process, etc.