Monday, March 19, 2012

[ZESTCaste] TN: Khaki blind to Dalit plight

TN: Khaki blind to Dalit plight

Sangeetha Neeraja
Express News Service
Last Updated : 19 Mar 2012 12:08:07 PM IST

CHENNAI: Over two years ago, Usha (28) saw her husband Raja being
lynched by a caste Hindu mob in Villupuram in broad daylight. "Over
100 people armed with sickles, iron bars, knives and stones, hit my
husband in front of me and my daughters; broke his skull and gouged
his eyes out before killing him. What did the police do? Nothing. Two
years have passed since the incident occurred. No action has been
taken so far," says Usha.

She was narrating her plight at a recent public hearing on the
'Atrocities and Non-implementation of the Scheduled Castes and
Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Tamil Nadu Rules'
in the city. Usha's presentation put the glare on caste bias that is
very much alive and kicking in our backyard.

In fact, less than one per cent of the accused get convicted under the
SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act, according to statistics
released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2009. And almost 95
per cent of complaints filed by members of the SC/ST community are not
even recorded. Of the five per cent of complaints based on which First
Information Reports (FIRs) are filed, hardly any move forward as
counter cases filed by the accused to render them ineffective.

As Bharathan, a Dalit rights activist, who had helped Dalits file 218
FIRs in 2008 under the SC/ST(PoA) Act, points out, "Unless some civil
society groups or NGOs support the victim, their complaints are never
accepted by the cops."

"What is sad to note is, the police often advise the accused on how to
come up with the best counter-case, to nullify the victim's complaint.
Cops prefer to investigate the counter cases, ignoring the original
complaints filed by the victims. Often, FIRs are not filed under the
SC/ST Act but under Section 323 of the Indian Penal Code (minor
injury) or under Section 294-B of the IPC (singing, reciting or
uttering any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public
place), so it becomes easy later to force Dalits to settle for a

To prove his point, he cites the case of a Arunthaiyar woman, who
registered a complaint at Surandai police station in Tirunelveli on
February 22. A caste Hindu verbally abused her in public. Though the
cops gave the woman a CRS receipt after filing an FIR, they changed
the case to that of causing public nuisance, after allegedly
consulting the town's panchayat chairman. The case was closed after

"When a case gets past the FIR into the investigation level, the
person who wrote the FIR is king. The way he words it is very
important. Most of the time, it is mildly worded with an intention to
water down the intensity of the atrocity. Which is one reason why the
charges rarely stick and the accused gets acquitted easily. The DSP,
who is supposed to investigate the case as per the SC/ST Act is
forever missing in action," says Bharathan.

On rare occasions, the DSP files a fair investigation report. If and
when that happens, he is transferred after the case comes to court, he
argues And the investigation is handed over to the local police, who
try their best to get the case nullified.

Under the SC/ST Act, every district is supposed to have a SC/ST Act
monitoring cell, which is a five-member body, presided by the district
collector. If a DSP dismisses a case, he has to present it to this
cell. Sadly, the district-level monitoring cells are entirely

When Dalit or tribal women go to police stations, they end up
interacting with male cops, not policewomen. The policemen hardly
listen to them or take down their grievances, charges Kalpana,
advisor, Tamil Nadu Federation of Women Panchayat Leaders. Besides,
policemen are often not polite to Dalits, she points out.

In fact, 18 per cent of the population in Tamil Nadu comprises Dalits.
Tribals constitute one per cent of the population. Yet, job vacancies
reserved for them are not filled up, citing spurious reasons, such as
lack of "suitable candidates", observes Kalpana.

There are about 450 types of discrimination and atrocities practiced
by caste Hindus against SC/STs, out of which 32 are visible. The rest
fall under various heads of visibility. Some are so well disguised
that you can figure them out only if you happen to be a Dalit.

For example, a Block Development Officer who was previously posted in
the Villathikulam panchayat Union office, would get up every time the
Dalit Panchayat president visited him. He would keep standing till the
conversation was over – often stretching to 25-30 minutes — to avoid
asking the Dalit to take a seat, argue activists.

At the public hearing, cases broadly falling under social exclusion —
infringement of customary rights to public places like water, road,
graveyard, police atrocities resulting in custodial deaths, rape and
sexual assault, abuse of women in power at the panchayat level were


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