Over a decade, up till 2016, the rate of crime against Dalits rose more than eight times to 746%. A report revealed that Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims were most susceptible to being falsely implicated in cases of petty crimes, Maoism, and terrorism respectively. Delhi based NDMJ-NCDHR held a national training programme for special public prosecutors and advocates to ensure access to justice for Dalits and Adivasis.
New Delhi: To sensitise servants of law to help the marginalised, prosecutors and advocates were recently trained by Delhi’s advocacy group to serve marginalised victims of atrocities.
There is a lot of simmering anger and resentment among the Dalit and Adivasi communities over the dilution of the Atrocities Act by the Supreme Court over anecdotal evidence about its misuse. If actual statistics are to be believed, that too the Annual statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, the false convictions and crimes against Dalits and Adivasis paint a different picture.
From 2009 to 2014, crimes against scheduled castes (SC) increased by 40% while those against scheduled tribes (ST) went up 118% (NCRB data).
However, conviction rates under the Atrocities Act were significantly lower than the national conviction rate for all crimes in general. The Bureau’s data for the 10-year period from 2007 to 2016 shows an average conviction rate of 28.8 in crimes against SC and 25.2 in crimes against ST. The average conviction rate for all crimes under the Indian Penal Code is much higher at 42.5.
Over a decade, up till 2016, the rate of crime against Dalits rose more than eight times to 746%. There were 2.4 crimes per 100,000 Dalits in 2006, rising to 20.3 in 2016, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of 2016 NCRB data.
To show how the police and the judiciary were failing the marginalised, the data says that cases pending police investigation for both marginalised groups have risen by 99% and 55% respectively, while the pendency in courts has risen by 50% and 28%, respectively. The conviction rates for crime against SCs and STs have fallen by 2 percentage points and 7 percentage points, respectively, to 26% and 21%, from 2006 to 2016.
With increasing crime against the marginalised and no clear path to justice, the National Dalit Movement for Justice-NCDHR (NDMJ) based in New Delhi held a national training programme for special public prosecutors and advocates to ensure access to justice for Dalits and Adivasis from Dec 14-16 at Viswa Yuva Kendra.
Around 50 special public prosecutors attended the training session organised by NDMJ and American Bar Association to support the Dalit and Adivasi victims and help them access justice in the Exclusive Special Court under SCs and STs (PoA) Amendment Act 2015.
A study report titled ‘Criminal Justice- in the Shadow of Caste,’ on discrimination against Dalit and Adivasi prisoners and victims of police excesses was also released.
The data under SC/ST (PoA) 1989 in cases of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis is clear evidence of the poor implementation of the Atrocity Act and the presence of caste hierarchies in the mechanisms of justice delivery.
The three days training programme provided an opportunity to the Special Public Prosecutors appointed/ to be appointed, as per Rule 4(5) of PoA Act, to enhance prosecution knowledge and skill, to serve justice to the Dalit and Adivasi communities affected by atrocities.
“Keeping in mind the poor statistics ,National Dalit Movement for Justice has taken the initiative to engage with committed lawyers in order to capacitate and encourage them to be appointed as Special Public Prosecutors (SPPs) for prosecuting cases of atrocity against Dalit and Adivasi communities under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocity) Act, 1989. NDMJ-NCDHR is engaging with committed lawyers to develop their perspectives and capacities to pursue the cases of atrocities by intervening in the special court with utmost legal efficiency. The communities can access justice only when there are committed and efficient lawyers who understand the challenges present in the judicial system,” a statement released by the group said.
Section 15 of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 and Rule 4(5) of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995, empowers Dalit and Adivasi victims to file petitions for appointment of Special Public Prosecutors of own choice. NDMJ – NCDHR has given considerable importance to the above-mentioned section. This provision becomes very crucial to enter courts that have been the domain of politically appointed lawyers with biased mind-sets, it can be extremely helpful as a tool for Special court intervention for the victims for accessing justice, they added.
A study report on Discrimination Against Dalit And Adivasis Prisoners and Victims of Police Excesses was also released during the training session. The study exclusively focuses on the Dalits and Adivasis accused of crimes and till date, no in-depth study has been made on the prejudices against Dalit and Adivasi prisoners in Indian Prison System. This study aims to explore the pain and agony of people victimised by the police excesses and those incarcerated. The study brings out the instances of discrimination based on caste at every layer of the criminal justice administration system
Main findings of the study
The findings detailed in this report show the gravity of caste discrimination against Dalits and Adivasis by police institutions. Deeply entrenched prejudices against Dalit’s and Adivasis play an important role in their harassment and incarceration. There are allegations that most police officers have their own caste and gender biases and often behave with Dalits and Adivasis in discriminatory ways. Usually, the victims of police torture are mainly Dalits and Adivasis. They are often picked up and jailed on concocted charges. The case studies and findings reveal the treatment meted out to the people belonging to Dalit and Adivasi communities. They are subjected to illegal arrests, detention and physical torture by the police in the name of nabbing “habitual offenders.”
The members of the community, including men, women and children, are subjected to systematic, continued and ruthless treatment by the police. The study reveals that it is convenient for the police to catch hold of the Dalits and Adivasi communities and foist false cases on them for crimes they had not committed. Dalits and other indigenous people too poor to seek legal counsel obviously spend too long behind bars, unable to seek justice even when they might be innocent.
The findings detailed in this report also show prison systems do not function at the level of the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The relevant international obligations and standards are deliberately disregarded. The deliberate physical, psychological mistreatment of inmates by prison officials is a persistent and pervasive cause of concern. Dalits and Adivasis are particularly vulnerable to deliberate mistreatment.
The research shows how caste-based prejudice lead to a high number of vulnerable communities inside the prisons and how often the prisoners are denied the minimum legal protections and legal processes guarantees during their arrest, detention or imprisonment.
Findings reveal how barriers are imposed on incarcerated Dalit’s inside the jails and how their legitimate rights are overlooked, in terms of their right to food, wage, employment, accommodation, medical, bail, parole and other rights to trial and appeals. All of these together impede the future success of both the families and of the communities at large.
Key recommendations by the NDMJ-NCDHR
1. States must ensure that torture; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment/ punishments are not employed before, during or after any interrogation, inside or outside the Police Custody by police officials.
2. Ratify the United Nations Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
3. Ensure that the government takes measures to protect a certain section of the SC, ST and DNT from being targeted on the pretext of habitual offenders and caste bias by the police.
4. The State Police Departments in conjunction with the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA), should conduct training and sensitization programs on the discrimination-free atmosphere in jails and police stations, rights of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and their duties and responsibilities.
5. Providing medical assistance, accommodation and beddings, adequate wages and employment, to inmates in prisons needs no reaffirmation and that discrimination over basic minimum facilities based on caste is a violation of human rights. All State Governments should concentrate on making the discrimination-free atmosphere a reality, including prisoners.
6. Legal Aid System needs an urgent overhaul. Such useful state instruments which can prove vital for thousands of illiterate and poor undertrials needs the strong endorsement of the Union Government and states. In this regard, the Law Commission’s proposal for new lawyers to do a two-year compulsory stint with the legal aid system is still on hold and needs to be enforced immediately.
Five out of six cases of atrocities against Dalits go unpunished
According to National Crime Record Bureau, between 10 to 15 thousand cases of crimes are reported under the Prevention of Atrocities act every year; an average of 35 crimes per day. Many times more crimes actually go unreported. In 2016 Indian courts had over 45 thousand cases under this act. Out of the 4048 cases decided, conviction occurred in 659 cases only. That is, five out of six cases of atrocity against Dalits did not result in any punishment. The number of attacks against one of the weakest and the poorest sections of the society and the abysmal rate of conviction would put any civilized society to shame.
When the law and police don't protect you anymore
A report revealed that Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims were most susceptible to being falsely implicated in cases of petty crimes, Maoism, and terrorism respectively.
The report titled, "Status of Policing in India Report (SPIR) 2018: A Study Performance and Perception", analysed the law enforcement in 22 states across India through a combination of official data and perception of police in the minds of people. It was released in May highlighted the status of policing in the country. It jointly unveiled by the Common Cause and Lokniti-CSDS.
38% of respondents agreed that Dalits were framed in cases of petty crimes, 28% said that Adivasis were vulnerable to false arrests for Maoism, and 27% agreed that Muslims were likely to be falsely implicated in terrorism-related cases.
The Supreme Court order said that the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act, 1989 is being “misused” and laid down procedures which will make it difficult for vulnerable communities to lodge cases against people in powerful positions such as government officials.
16 special courts were introduced in 33 districts of Gujarat two years after the Una flogging incident to address Dalit atrocity in Gujarat. The special courts are a part of total 56 special courts and according to data from Gujarat High Court till December 31, 2017, there are 3,879 atrocity cases pending at various stages of trial in these courts
In a leaked viral video clip, a constable from Beed, Maharashtra was recorded saying that she beats up Scheduled Caste people who come to her to lodge complaints against upper caste atrocities under the Atrocities Act. “I tie the hands and legs of Dalits and take my anger on them,” she is allegedly heard in the clip. Another person in the video is also heard saying that the IPS officer has filed cases under Section 307 of the IPC of attempt to murder against Muslims so that they don’t get bail easily.
The constable is also allegedly heard saying that when she was posted in Pimpri, she did not arrest Marathas accused of caste atrocities for three days, and instead asked the Marathas to file a false case against the Dalits. The IPS officer is also heard advising the Marathas to file a case under Section 122 of the IPC, which is an offence to bear arms without a licence. Many Dalit organisations have demanded action against the officer who identifies herself as a Maratha,” the report said.
The police have ordered an investigation against the IPS officer from Beed’s Majalgaon tehsil, but reports suggest that this is not the first time she has shielded Marathas from cases filed against them.
The Bhima Koregaon case is a prime example of how the marginalised were targeted and activists across the country, working for SC/ST, human rights group were arrested on false charges.
In Maharashtra–where Dalits constitute 11.2% of the state’s population–crimes against Dalits rose 25%, from 10.6 per 100,000 Dalits in 2006 to 13.2 in 2016. Cases pending investigation rose 137% from 346 cases in 2006 to 821 in 2016. Cases pending trial were up 28% from 6,181 cases in 2006 to 7,913 cases in 2016, NCRB data show.
Apart from reflecting caste bias and corruption, FIRs are delayed because of the pressure on police to keep the reported crime rates low in their jurisdiction, as a high crime rate is not viewed favourably among police personnel, according to a 2014 National Human Rights Commission study. “Police views the Act as an obstacle to caste harmony,” the report added.
In an assessment of the country-wide implementation of the SC/ST Act, the ministry of social justice described key problems in its implementation, including such behaviour as “willful negligence of a public servant in discharging duties for registration of complaints, recording statement of witnesses, conducting investigation and filing charges”, in its 2016 annual report.
In the past eight years, no Dalit or Adivasi judge has been elevated to the Supreme Court, and none of the 24 high courts has a serving Dalit judge, The Print reported in April 2018. In lower courts, Dalits comprised less than 14% of judges, and tribals 12%, the Times of India reported in January 2018.
(With inputs from previous Sabrang articles.)
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