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No need to tinker with the changes made by the apex court in SC/ST (Prevention of atrocity) Act

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Jai prakash Ojha
The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may contacted on jojha601@gmail.com. Read his articles on ojhajp.blogspot,com

Dilution of some of the most stringent provisions of the SC/ST act by the apex judiciary has created apprehensions in the minds of dalit activists and leaders.

What did the court say? Automatic arrests on the lodging of mere complaints under this act should stop and FIR should not be filed before conducting a preliminary enquiry into the matter. Public servants should not be arrested before taking the consent of their appointing authorities. When a private individual is concerned, nod has to come from the SSP of the district.

I don’t think what the court said is bad law. The changed provisions are as per the principles of natural justice and would go a long in the strengthening of individual rights. The ongoing protests against the changes in the Act are guided by malicious agenda and reflect very poorly on the modus operandi of dalit activism which has lost track due to excessive state appeasement and is resorting to blackmail to arm twist the state.

More than 70 years have passed since independence; it’s a pity that dalit agitations are yet to come out of the victimhood mindset. The dalit movement suffers from psychological problems while confronting the upper castes. It is yet to get out of the world of hallucination and sees or imagine things that do not exist in reality or else, what explains its belligerence against the invisible Manuwad? Any attempt to seek review or bypass the verdict would be regressive and not in accordance with well established norms of democracy.

Looking at the ground realities, it’s a stark reality that despite the lapse of seven decades after independence, atrocities do take place against the dalits. It’s not only the upper castes but also powerful dominant backward and intermediate castes who are guilty. As per NCRB figures 2016, more than 47000 crimes took place against dalits and the trend of late is alarmingly high. Conviction rate is also very low hovering around 25 percent. Reasons for atrocities against dalits are not what they used to be in yesteryears.

The rises in income levels and lifestyle of the dalits with their increased visibility in public employment have created heartburn among non dalit communities who feel that dalits have been unduly favored and given reservation. World wide experience manifests that positive affirmative action programmes initially benefits the society but after a certain time, it tends to perpetuate the domination of beneficiaries. The new wave of militant dalit activism that does not shy away from confrontation with its eye for eye approach has also unnerved the dominant communities.

violence by dalits
A child injured during protests by Dalit groups

Moreover, it would be naive to underestimate the clout of dalits today and think that they can be beaten into submission. Politically they are a powerful community. The deepening of social democracy and implementation of local self government acts meant that there was always an option for the dalits to organize at local levels. Years of reservation has created an educated middle class among dalits who are well networked through unions and cells. The democratization of information through spread of social media has also provided a platform to the young educated dalits to organize quickly on issues related to them.

The atrocity figures may show an upward trend but don’t forget that nowadays the lower castes are much more vocal and the incidents of reporting have gone up. Crimes are a lot more visible now. The low conviction rate of crimes under this act may show the prejudiced mindset of the state and courts but it may also be construed that most of the cases filed under this act are on whimsical and frivolous grounds. Today most of the public organizations have SC/ST unions/cells. Fear of this act has prevented non dalit superiors from acting tough against their dalit subordinates even in matters of inefficiency, indiscipline and gross negligence of duties. Debates over necessity of this act or misuse of this act would continue but I think time is ripe for Indian democracy to take some tough decisions.

Let’s start with individual rights. This very notion of community rights /entitlements needs to be done away with. Individual rights needs to be strengthened and spotlight should be on empowerment of the individuals. Entitlements like reservation should be based on inclusive and secular criteria. One of the main factors that have led to hostility against dalits is reservation. Review of reservation is necessary to remove the grievances of the non reserved classes. The practice of creating special laws for special category of citizens needs to be stopped.

The fundamental purpose of any democracy should be to merge the differences between Hindus/Muslims and dalit /backward /upper castes and transform them into citizens. Steps that sharpen identity divides like issues related to caste, religion, language and region need to put on the back burner. Perpetuation of caste prejudices in the name of social justice has already torn the social fabric of the country. There is a widespread feeling among non dalits that the provisions of the Atrocity act are being misused to fix non dalits even in petty cases. No wonder from time to time voices have been raised by the Marathas, Vanniyar and other communities for the repeal of the act. This act has perpetuated mindless dalit aggression. The individual liberties of non dalits are threatened.

Its high time efforts are made to abolish bodies like National Commission for SC /ST, disband Dalit unions and cells and stop welfare schemes, education, jobs in the name of caste. Human Rights Commissions should cater to the needs of all individuals and all welfare schemes should be universalized. The state policies should be designed so as to take out the castes from their self created ghettos and change them into citizens. Caste is always anti national, religion is always anti national for they tend to buttress the sharp identity divides and prevents amalgamation on the basis of shared nationhood.

The state must protect the sanctity of its institutions……caste politics must not be allowed to ride roughshod over it. What the SC verdict delivered has to be accepted and its rulings should not be circumscribed by vote bank compulsions.

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Jai prakash Ojha
The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may contacted on jojha601@gmail.com. Read his articles on ojhajp.blogspot,com
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