Indian constitution is one of the most well framed and liberal constitution said to be inspired by one of the most developed democracies of the world like Australia, UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Russia, Italy and Germany.
But the March 20th order of Supreme Court to dilute certain provisions of the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act challenged the constitutional integrity and stoked a massive Dalit outrage across the nation, in protest of the Supreme Court decision, deemed as a violation of the Dalit rights.
In its verdict the Supreme Court banned automatic arrests and penalization of public servants without the approval of a legal authority and also a verification from the Senior Superintendent of police will be required in order to prosecute the private citizens and SC/STs.
Besides the directive included the provision of preliminary inquiry conducted under the case to ensure that the charges levelled against the accused are concrete.
In protest of the Supreme Court’s dilution of the SC/ST Act Dalit organizations across India called for nationwide Bandh, fearing that the amendment of the act would step up violence against the community.
However to put a stay on the current Supreme Court verdict the centre filed review petition to seek an interim stay on SC order for two weeks.
But it’s not just the Supreme Court order that has led to this outburst at the national level. Crimes on Dalits have been on the rise for the past few years but the perspective has changed now as the Dalits are finally venting their ire over the surge of atrocities that they were subjugated to.
Figures drawn from the National Crime Data manifest that much before the SC ruling, the crimes against Scheduled Cast and Scheduled Tribe has spiralled sharply in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat between-2014-2016.
Almost 90 % of the cases related to crime against Dalits are awaiting trial and the Dalits are shocked by the SC ruling as they say the conviction rate of most the crimes were very low.
It was the suicide of the Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula back in January 2016 that brought the Dalit debate to the forefront sparking a series of protests and clashes in the college premises across the country against the institutionalized caste discrimination of the minorities.
The nation was taken aback again with yet another incident of mob lynching of 4 Dalit youths by cow vigilantes in Una, Gujarat in July 2016.
In May 2017 Dalit Bhim army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad was booked under National Security Act for his alleged conduct of violence in Saharanpur, UP. Most recently it was the Dalit celebration at Maharashtra’s Bhima Koregaon which led to the death of a Dalit youth and triggering a mass protest in Mumbai in which 30 people were injured and 300 were arrested.
Even though the Dalit organizations feel that the dilution of the stringent provisions of the act will render them vulnerable to atrocities, the Supreme Court differs on this issue arguing that its judgement is in accordance of the SC/ST Act provided it protects an innocent from being falsely implicated under the act which has stringent provisions.
A bench led by justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Uday Umesh Lalit clarified that their judgment applied only to cases registered under the SC/ST Act and if any offence committed under the act involved transgressions like tonsuring of head, physical violence, arson, disrobing, denying access to irrigation or forest right, disposing human or animal carcasses, forcing women members to as Devdasis, digging graves and manual scavenging then it also comes in the ambit of the law.
The Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955, was brought into practice post independence to discard discrimination against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Transformed again as the Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976, it was further amended in 1989 as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The amendments in the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) made in 2016 expedited the judicial procedure on the registered FIRs ensuring completion of trial within two months on filing charge sheet by setting up special courts and deadlines to complete the investigation.
In its March 20th order the apex court maintained that it has not dropped any provision under the legislation giving full protection to the rights of SC/STs, however an accused cannot be arrested just because an FIR has been lodged without complete verification of the complaint against him.
As per the existing provision under the SC/ST Act an FIR has to be registered on filing of a complaint like in any other crime as murder, attempt to murder or rape.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the review petition within 10 days asking the Centre, the Maharashtra government and the other petitioners to file submissions citing why the verdict needed consideration.
The Supreme Court verdict is bound to have serious ramifications for both the BJP and the Congress with the assembly elections in Karnataka around the corner where caste rhetoric is imminent and the forthcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections in which both the parties stake a claim for the Dalit votes for a surefire win.