People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 38

September 19, 2010

The Ailing Social Justice in our Country


G Mamatha


“Turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform; you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster”. Recalling these words of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, one can say that the country is seriously ill. The health and progress of a nation depends on the status – social, politico-economic and cultural – of its people and not just on the growth rates. Growth rates in reality, depict the fattening of the already fattened parasites – those who are growing by sucking the blood out of the common people, denying them their livelihood. Taking our look away from these parasites and a glance at the lives of those people who constitute the majority in our country, the unsung heroes, the driving force behind all our achievements, points to the ills that are plaguing our country. Instead of saluting their achievements, they are meted with inhuman treatment just because they constitute the lowest in both economic and social ladders of our society – the dalits and tribals.


This is a fact accepted by the government itself as various official statistics reflect the increasing number of atrocities against the dalits and tribals. The information compiled by the Crime Records Bureau shows that the number of cases registered of atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes is on the rise. The number of cases of atrocities against the Scheduled Castes registered in 2006 was 26,665, in 2007, it was 29,825 and in 2008, it was 33,365. It is shocking to note that the conviction rate is less than 30 per cent against the national average of 42 per cent for all cognisable offences under the IPC (Indian Penal Code). Moreover, acquittals are very high and pendency is about 80 per cent.


Although the parliament has made two special laws, first, the Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955 and the other, the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989, which empower the governments to take action, the rising atrocities clearly demonstrate that only legislating does not vouch for effective enforcement. It is the implementation of the existing laws and the political will to herald social justice that gives tooth to these laws.


It is not just statistics that highlight the failure of the government to address the inhuman treatment of the SC/STs. The government itself admits its failure in the implementation of these laws. In the recently concluded monsoon session of parliament there was a brief discussion on the rising atrocities on dalits and tribals. It noted, “There is a feeling amongst the Scheduled Castes and the Schedule Tribes that all these laws, statements and pronouncements have really not brought any relief to them. The crimes that are committed with these people are the worst kind of crimes. These are not petty clashes. These are pre-meditated crimes. This shows how vulnerable the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are…Why do the governments not show the willingness, the determination and the firmness of purpose to punish those who are committing these atrocities”.


This admission is not a recent realisation that had dawned on the government. The committee under the chairmanship of the minister of social justice, set up after the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was passed has expressed that the most important areas of concern regarding the rising atrocities on dalits are the following five: (i) the high rate of acquittal; (ii) the high rate of pendency of cases, (iii) inadequate use of the preventive provisions of the Act; (iv) the committees and other mechanisms provided in the Act have virtually not been put to use; and (v) the Act itself may not be deterrent, perhaps it is not being as deterrent as it should be. The verdict on the Khairlanji massacre and the manner in which the Mirchpur atrocity is handled by the state administration in Haryana once again vindicate this 'candid confession' of the government. That the government fails to learn from experience is of course another matter!


The Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in its 67-page report submitted to the parliament on August 30, 2010, on the attack on Mirchpur dalits has said that inaction by the local administration and the police had led to arson and loss of two invaluable lives. The committee felt that the dominant caste indulged in violence to prove its dominance over Balmikis. It said, “Had the police taken preventive measures, the systematic torching of dalit houses and the deaths could have been prevented. Police inaction can’t be overlooked. Even after we visited Mirchpur on July 2, all accused haven’t been arrested.”


The report pointed out that Vinod Kajal, the now suspended SHO of the affected Narnaund taluk of Mirchpur, was also officer in charge in 2005 when some Dom SCs were paraded naked. It concluded that the Mirchpur attack was pre-planned and avoidable. It clearly expressed its apprehensions on the role of the police in shielding the culprits belonging to a dominant community, as they delayed their arrest, despite an FIR on April 21. Even after four months, only 48 of the 130 accused have been arrested and charge sheets served on 28 alone. Moreover, there are reports that state that Jats are pressurising the victimised dalits to compromise and withdraw the FIR.


The committee has directed the state government to give land to the dalits to halt their exodus and asked the state government to honour the home ministry advisory on the treatment of SCs/STs. It wondered how a Jat Maha Khap was allowed in Mirchpur with tension still simmering. It also objected to the constitution of a single-member judicial commission (headed by a Punjab and Haryana High Court judge), by the Haryana state government to probe the Mirchpur arson and said the commission should have had SC members to inspire confidence among the victims fleeing Mirchpur. “Such a commission should be a multi-member body,” it said, directing immediate arrest of the accused and posting of SCs at the new police post Haryana has set up in Mirchpur. The committee's scepticism on the inquiry commission is seen as buttressing its suspicion that the administration was favouring the dominant Jats.


The report said it was strange that of the 31 members of the peace committee set up after the arson, only one came to meet the parliamentary panel in Mirchpur. Wondering why the state had no human rights commission, they suggested setting up one. Haryana government replied that it needed no separate commission as complaints were being addressed by the National Human Rights Commission located in Delhi!


The committee also found the compensation inadequate and directed the union social justice ministry to revise SC compensation rules framed in 1995. It had asked Haryana government to re-assess monetary damages to dalits. The crime against dalits is also aimed at crippling SCs economically too. With the torched houses yet to be repaired, the committee directed that this should be done urgently. Further, opposing Haryana’s proposal for a separate primary school for SC children near Mirchpur, it opined that it would be better if the state could book the schools that denied admission to SC children under the prevention of atrocities Act. The committee even called Mirchpur part of a pattern, noting that there were other incidents in Haryana that “shook the minds” of its members.


Of course, it is a 'part of a pattern'. Here the advisory issued by the union home ministry on tackling the atrocities against dalits, on April 1, 2010 merits a mention. Incidentally, this is just 20 days prior to the Mirchpur incident. It says, “The state law enforcing machinery must be sensitised to deal with crimes and atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Unless the law enforcing machinery involves the community, these atrocities and crimes cannot be prevented. If atrocities and crimes are committed, immediately the State must rush in and implement measures for the economic and social rehabilitation of victims of atrocities. The State must ensure that everybody can live in his or her traditional habitation or place of residence with respect, with dignity. The administration should play a more pro-active role in involving the community; and training must be imparted to police officers on these laws”. It also recommended that the media, print and electronic, must be used to create awareness on these laws.


The advisory felt that the most serious lacuna is delay which leads to disappearance of relevant evidence. Therefore, it is important that the case is tried within three months or six months. The district judge must take responsibility for the administration of criminal justice in his jurisdiction. He must hold the monitoring committee meetings every month. The advisory also asked the States and the High Courts to designate the Special Courts. States should also set up special police stations for dealing with crimes and atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The act allows for appointment of special public prosecutors, which many states have not followed.


Creating legal awareness and legal literacy among the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes is necessary so that they can stand up for their rights and go and register these cases. The state must make a conscious effort and police officers belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in those districts, where the people are especially vulnerable must supervise these cases. The district judge and the senior judges must periodically review what is the state of these cases and how they can be expedited.


That the state government of Haryana ignored or did not heed to the advisory needs no reiteration. The 'pattern' can be understood when we remind ourselves of the 'honour killings' that are taking place in the state. These two facts together prove that the state government and administrative machinery is corroded with distinct upper caste bias. This is indeed a frightening prospect. The state, which is supposed to protect all its citizens and uphold the rule of the land and the constitution, itself becomes a covert participant in a systematic violation of these very institutions.


The only way to rein in such a state is, expose the discrepancies between its words and deeds, pressurise the state to at least live by its promises and uphold the constitutional values. This can be ensured only when we mobilise wide sections of the society.