Dalit fury: What stoked the fire

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stay its March 20 order diluting certain provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. It will, however, reconsider last month’s judgment in a hearing after 10 days and has asked parties to file their written submissions within two days.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have increased sharply in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, UP and Gujarat, according to the NCRB
  • The SC’s verdict in March diluting certain provisions of the SC/ST Act triggered the protests
  • With the Karnataka elections next month, the events are bound to become a poll issue

The apex court’s decision comes a day after the Bharat Bandh called by Dalit organisations to protest the SC ruling turned violent in parts of India, resulting in the deaths of nine people.The scale and intensity of the violence took the government by surprise, forcing it to snap internet services in some places in Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, impose curfew in different areas and call the Army in Morena and Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh.

THE BUILD-UP TO CASTE ANGER

But it’s not just the SC order that has angered the Dalits, The community has been simmering over several reported atrocities. Months before apex court’s order on the SC/ST Act diluting the provisions, national crime data showed that crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes increased sharply in certain states—Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, UP and Gujarat—between 2014 and 2016.

CRIMES AGAINST SCS

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, the rate of crimes against Dalits have risen in recent years. Government data shows that by the end of 2016, about 90 per cent of the cases involving crimes against Dalits were still awaiting trial. Dalit organisations say the SC ruling was shocking as the conviction rate for such crimes has declined over the years. Government data also shows that fewer than a tenth of the cases brought by Dalits in 2016 were proven false.

THE DALIT PUSH BACK

Dalits have been targeted over the years. What’s different now is that the community, festering over the atrocities it’s been facing, is now pushing back. Dalits were killed for protesting upper caste atrocities, for a wedding procession upper castes took exception to, for owning a horse and for marrying a non-Dalit, among others — and the community is no mood to take this lying down.

The suicide of Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula made headlines in January 2016 and brought this discrimination to the forefront. It triggered a series of protests in campuses across the country against institutionalized caste discrimination and the plight of students from marginalized communities.

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            Rohit Vemula’s death triggered protests across universities

In July 2016, the brutal thrashing of four dalit youths in Una, Gujarat, by ‘cow vigilantes’, allegedly for cow slaughter shocked the country. A video of the flogging went viral and led to widespread protests. Leading these protests was Jignesh Mevani, a new Dalit leader who contested the Gujarat Assembly Elections in 2017 and emerged winner from Vadgam.

In May 2017, new Dalit outfit Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad was arrested and slapped with stringent National Security Act (NSA) and accused by police of spearheading violence in Saharanpur, UP where Dalits clashed with police. He was later granted him bail with the HC saying cases against him were ‘politically motivated’.

More recently, violence against a Dalit celebration at Maharashtra’s Bhima Koregaon led to the death of a youth in January this year. Protests by Dalits and their supporters in Mumbai led to 30 people injured and 300 being detained.

WHAT THE SC VERDICT SAYS
On March 20, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that arrests under a law meant to speed action on complaints of violence against Dalits required prior sanction from officials and barred the immediate arrest of those accused in such complaints. It also permitted anticipatory bail if prima facie no case was made or the complaint appeared frivolous.

Diluting certain provisions of the SC//ST Act that protects against discrimination and violence, the apex court court in its judgment said prior approval was required following the acknowledged abuse of provisions for arrest in such cases.

In addition, the court diluted the requirement of a mandatory FIR to conduct an initial inquiry. It also said a public servant could only be arrested after written approval from the appointing authority, while an ordinary citizen could be arrested after written approval from the SSP.

POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE DALIT STIR
Every time the BJP has moved to woo Dalits through big-ticket symbolism, incidents like the Una floggings, Rohith Vemula’s suicide and objectionable statements from its ministers have set back its efforts. While it may not have stopped the party from winning crucial elections, the damage to its political positioning has been.

The BJP is hitting back, saying both the Centre and its state governments are dedicated to the welfare of the backward castes. For the opposition, though, the ST/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has become another weapon to paint the ruling party as inimical to Dalit interests.While politics has begun to churn with 2019 in view, the immediate context is the high-stakes Karnataka polls in which the Dalit community vote would prove crucial in who gets to rule the state.

Source:Times Of India

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