Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes

The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was enacted by the Parliament of India, in order to prevent atrocities against Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The purpose of the Act was to help the social inclusion of Dalits into Indian society, but the Act has failed to live up to its expectations.

Going through the normal judicial system is self degrading for any dalit. This is because of the still existing biases of the court judges. One example is the conduct of an Allahabad High Court judge who had his chambers “purified” with water from the ‘ganga jal’ because a dalit judge had previously sat in that chamber before him.

Another example is the case of State of Karnataka v. Ingale (1992). The State of Karnataka had charged five individuals with violating the SC/ST Act. At trial, four witnesses testified that the defendants had threatened dalits with a gun in order to stop them from taking water from a well.

The defendants told the dalits that they had no right to take water, because they were untouchables. The dalits finally got relief from the Supreme Court.

Rural atrocities which are not covered under this Act

Social and economic boycott and blackmail are widespread. In view of the fact that the main perpetrators of the crime sometimes co-opt a few SC/STs with them and take advantage of local differences among the SC/STs and sometimes they promote and engineer crimes but get them executed by some members of SC/STs, the Act should be suitably amended to bring such crimes and atrocities within the purview of the definition of atrocities under the Act. 

Firstly, it clarified what the atrocities were: both particular incidents of harm and humiliation, such as the forced consumption of noxious substances, and systemic violence still faced by many Dalits, especially in rural areas. Such systemic violence includes forced labor, denial of access to water and other public amenities, and sexual abuse of Dalit women.

Secondly, the Act created Special Courts to try cases registered under the POA.

Thirdly, the Act called on states with high levels of caste violence (said to be “atrocity-prone”) to appoint qualified officers to monitor and maintain law and order. The POA gave legal redress to Dalits, but only two states have created separate Special Courts in accordance with the law.

In practice the Act has suffered from a near-complete failure in implementation. Policemen have displayed a consistent unwillingness to register offenses under the act. This reluctance stems partially from ignorance and also from peer protection. According to a 1999 study, nearly a quarter of those government officials charged with enforcing the Act are unaware of its existence.

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By Hassham

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