Wednesday, November 18, 2009

[ZESTCaste] Dalit organizations threaten protest

Dalit organizations threaten protest
TNN 17 November 2009, 09:56pm IST

MYSORE: The delay in construction of Ambedkar Bhavan in the city
threatens to snowball into a controversy with Dalit organizations
threatening an

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The Karnataka State Dalitha Sangharsha Samithi on Monday accused the
government of adopting anti-Dalit stance. The social welfare
department got the plot behind the Chamundi guesthouse in June 2002,
but it is yet to start the work. The district administration is not
responding, Samithi district convener Ningaraj Malladi told reporters.

The civic bodies wanted to use the plot off the busy D Devaraj Urs
Road for parking to ease traffic, but it was opposed by Dalit groups
who pitched a board proclaiming the land was reserved for Ambedkar
Bhavan. The official machinery failed to work out a negotiation with
the Dalit leaders. Now, the Dalit organizations are upset that the
construciton of the bhavan has been delayed and the land could be

Malladi said CM B S Yeddyurappa has promised to get funds for the Rs
18-crore project. The DC has stated that Rs 8 crore has been mobilized
locally while Rs 10 crore is sought from the government. But neither
the elected representaitves nor the officers are serious, he said.

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[ZESTCaste] Rape survivor, topper, now labourer

Rape survivor, topper, now labourer

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 10:24 IST

Ahmedabad: She survived the torment of being repeatedly gangraped-- at
a government-run college in Patan, by her own teachers -- and yet
topped the Primary Teacher's Certificate exams.

Now she survives as a farm labourer, earning Rs60 per day. The victim,
Pooja (name changed), a Dalit girl, who was violated for months by the
very people who were supposed to protect and nurture her, was promised
a job by the state government.

The assurance was given during the trial of her six tormentors, who
were later sentenced to life in prison, at a time when outraged and
shamed Gujarat demanded that the government act responsibly and

Those promises seem to have been forgotten today. While her
application for employment is tossed back and forth in babudom's
labyrinth, Pooja struggles to fend for her bed-ridden parents. Her
mother underwent a hysterectomy recently and the father suffered a
bone injury, said Manjula Pradeep, the executive director of NGO,
Navsarjan, which has been championing Pooja's fight for justice.

Talking to DNA over phone, Pooja said, "I cannot join a private school
because they pay a measly Rs1,000 a month. As a labourer, I earn Rs60
per day." Her toils demoralise her so much that even the memory of
scoring 86.8 % in her final PTC exams provide little succor, she said.

As for government functionaries who had initially offered her support,
they are now issuing non-committal platitudes. Pooja said that the
state education minister, Ramanlal Vora, had told her, "The government
has received your application for a job, and will get back to you in
due course of time." The only concrete offer that was made, that of a
clerical job, came at a time when she was fighting her battle for

"The government has to perform its role by offering her social
security, and ensuring her physical and mental well-being," Pradeep
said. "It should fulfil all its promises of looking after her and
giving her a life of dignity."

Corroborating Pooja's statement that she had sent written applications
to all government notables, including Narendra Modi, Pradeep said that

Pooja had also met the Mehsana collector twice with her plea for a job.

Ajay Bhadoo, the district collector of Mahesana, confirmed receiving
her representation. "She had made a representation to us in writing,
three or four months back," he said. "We had forwarded it to the
official concerned, who is the district primary education officer.
Then the application was forwarded to the state government."

Meanwhile, Pooja continues to press on with her menial job, showing
the same spirit that allowed her to survive her unspeakable trauma.
She has received no monetary assistance, apart from the chief
minister's token relief of Rs1 lakh, released soon after her story

Despite DNA's sustained attempts, education minister Vora and revenue
minister Anandiben Patel, who is the sitting MLA from Patan, could not
be reached for comments.

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[ZESTCaste] 12-year-old Dalit raped in Sitapur district

12-year-old Dalit raped in Sitapur district
Express News Service Posted online: Wednesday, Nov 18, 2009 at 0259 hrs
Lucknow : A minor Dalit girl was raped and subsequently murdered in
Sitapur district's Sadarpur area on Tuesday evening.
Her half-naked body was recovered from a secluded field. She was
missing since Monday.

The Sadarpur Station Officer, M P Singh, said that the 12-year-old
girl had taken her goats to the field, but did not return home.

Her father, a resident of Markhapur village, lodged a missing person
report on Tuesday morning.

In the evening, a few locals found the girl's body lying in the field
outside the village. Singh said the body bore injuries in private
parts and the unidentified assailant had used the victim's salwar to
strangle her to death. "The salwar was found wrapped around her neck.
The accused is yet to be identified," he added.


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[ZESTCaste] Unwilling to act


Unwilling to act

Governments across the country have shown a remarkable reluctance to
use the S.C./S.T. Act to protect Dalits from upper-caste violence.


Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange. Four members of his family, including two women,
were hacked to death in September 2006. In September 2008, six persons
were awarded the death sentence in the case, but their appeal is
pending in the Bombay High Court.

By Lyla Bavadam in Mumbai

ATROCITIES against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes
registered a steady rise in Maharashtra from 890 cases in 1999 to
1,385 cases in 2007, the latest year for which government statistics
are available. In 1995, the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance
promised to repeal the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
(Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, if voted to power. The reasoning
was that it was a hindrance to communal harmony. One of the first
moves of the Sena-BJP government (1995-2000) was to withdraw more than
1,000 cases registered under the Act, saying many of them were false.
This in itself was illegal since it requires the court's consent to
withdraw cases. Most of the cases related to the aftermath of the
violence that followed the renaming of Marathwada University as Dr
Ambedkar University. Upper-caste Hindus protested violently at the
time. Even now, caste tensions in the Marathwada region are the
highest in the State.

Apart from the Sena-BJP's attempt to get rid of the Act, there are
doubts about the commitment of the government, of whichever party,
towards it. Quoting figures from the 2007 annual report of the
National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the Asian Centre for Human
Rights' publication "Torture in India 2009" states that the NCRB
"reported a total of 30,031 cases – including 206 cases under the
Protection of Civil Rights Act and 9,819 cases under the S.C./S.T. Act
– against the S.Cs in 2007. Although the average charge-sheeting rate
for the crimes against the S.Cs was 90.6 per cent, the average
conviction rate was only 30.9 per cent. A total of 51,705 persons
(78.9 per cent) out of 65,554 persons arrested for crimes committed
against Scheduled Castes were charge-sheeted, but only 29.4 per cent
were convicted, consisting of 13,871 persons out of 47,136 persons
against whom trials were completed."

Special courts to try atrocity cases do not exist in Maharashtra.
Instead, the government makes placatory gestures that do not go beyond
reiterating the provisions of the S.C./S.T. Act. The most recent
example was when the previous government said it would fine and
curtail development funds to an entire village where a caste atrocity
was committed . This provision exists in the Act. N.K. Sonare,
national president of the Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace,
India, said: "Everything is on paper. Nothing is applied. Instead
there is always pressure on the people not to file complaints. The
police are instructed not to file FIRs or to leave loopholes in
investigation." Sonare added that there were numerous conventions and
recommendatory reports that supported victims of caste abuse, but the
government was lax about following them.

If it had, then incidents such as the one that took place at Rajnai
village in Beed district on August 23 could have been prevented. A
15-year-old S.C. girl was kidnapped and gangraped by three men, one of
whom is believed to be a Hindu priest. She was left at a bus stand by
her assailants. Her family filed an FIR but the police initially
refused to register a case under the S.C./S.T. Act, though they did it
later, under pressure from a non-governmental organisation (NGO). The
main accused has not yet been arrested and the family is under
pressure to withdraw the case. "They are landless people and depend on
the upper castes for their income. This is being used to put pressure
on them," said a representative of the NGO.

If they did own some land and decide to grow something on it, they
could meet the fate of Madhukar Ghatge of Kulakjai village in Satara
district. When he retired from his job in the Railways in Mumbai in
2007, he only had one aim – cultivate his land in the village. One of
the first things he did was to dig a well after acquiring the
permission from the panchayat. It was, tragically, his last action.
Ghatge's upper-caste neighbours were enraged at his "audacity". On
April 26, 2007, he was attacked with rods and axes and he died on the
way to hospital. Fourteen people were identified as the assailants and
12 were arrested and charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code
(IPC) and the S.C./S.T. Act. A charge sheet was filed and they were
released on bail. They are now believed to be absconding.


At Khairlanji village in Maharashtra's Bhandara district, outside the
house of Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange.

If Dalits raised their voice, they were silenced brutally, as a young
mother (name withheld) was at Telgaon village in Solapur district in
March 2006. She knew she was taking a bold step when she complained
against the liquor barons in her village but had no idea that they
would use her caste against her. The mother of a child was stripped,
beaten, paraded and then kept on "display" for a few hours. Her child
was with her through this humiliation. After media intervention an FIR
was filed under the S.C./S.T. Act, but the young woman's social,
emotional and economic support systems had been destroyed. Social
pressures forced her husband to abandon her. She has no land and
others are unwilling to employ her. Under the Act she is eligible for
rehabilitation, but the district administration refused this. Instead,
she was told that she could live in a government institution for
abandoned women. Her child lives in another such institution. Her case
is in the sessions court at Solapur at present.

Caste hatred at its worst perhaps was witnessed at Khairlanji village
in Bhandara district in September 2006 when four members of a Dalit
family, the Bhotmanges, were lynched by their neighbours belonging to
the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), apparently following a dispute over
the ownership and use of land. The two women victims were paraded
naked and were said to have been gangraped by the residents of the
village. All of them were ultimately hacked to death. In September
2008, six people were given the death sentence for the crime but they
went in appeal and the case is in the Bombay High Court.

The greatest criticism against the handling of the Khairlanji case was
that it was handled from a purely criminal angle and without invoking
the S.C./S.T. Act. The charges related to murder, outraging the
modesty of women, criminal conspiracy and unlawful assembly with
deadly weapons (rape charges were not brought since the post-mortem
did not give proof of that). The caste hatred and atrocity angle was
completely bypassed even though the Bhotmanges lost their lives
because they were Dalits.

That a person's Dalit identity still overrides everything else in the
villages was something Mumbai-returned Dilip Shendge, 25, forgot when
he presumed that the use of the public handpump in his village,
Bhutegaon in Jalna district, would be on a first-come, first-served
basis, in May 2003. For this "lapse" he was murdered and his sister
was accosted by a group of upper-caste Patils who taunted her about
her caste. Later, she was beaten unconscious when she intervened in a
fight between another brother of hers and some boys. Later that
evening, the brother, sister and their mother were set on fire outside
their house by a mob of Patils. Neighbours doused the flames, but it
took them three hours to get the victims to hospital on a bullock
cart. Dilip died a few days later of severe burns. A fact-finding team
from the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights was told at the
police station that the register for the Bhutegaon case could not be

In July 1997, half way into the Sena-BJP government's term, one
morning the mainly Dalit residents of Ramabai Nagar in north Mumbai
woke up to see a garland of slippers around a bust of Dr B.R.
Ambedkar. They reacted violently, stoning vehicles on the nearby
highway. The State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) was called in, and
within minutes of their arrival they opened fire, killing 10 Dalits.
On May 2009, a fast track court in Mumbai sentenced the SRPF platoon
commander, Manohar Kadam, to life imprisonment. Though he was
ultimately convicted of culpable homicide (and not under the S.C./S.T.
Act), the real reason for the trouble remains a mystery.

The incident brought the Dalit population together in a way that Dalit
leaders failed to. Already enraged by the 1995 decision to withdraw
cases filed under the S.C./S.T. Act, Dalits were further infuriated by
the defence of the firing by Chief Minister Manohar Joshi of the Shiv
Sena and Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde of the BJP. In the 1999
Assembly elections the alliance was voted out and it is widely
accepted that Dalits, who form 12 per cent of the State's population,
played a significant role in this.

By T.K. Rajalakshmi in Jaipur

IT is still known as "Kumher kaand" (Kumher carnage). The massacre of
Jatavs in Kumher town in Rajasthan's Bharatpur district 17 years ago
is something that is not forgotten easily. The incident occurred on
June 6, 1992, when 254 homes and hutments were set ablaze. Officially,
17 Jatavs were burnt alive, but independent sources put the number of
dead at 30. There were cases of arson, molestation and destruction of
property of Jatavs by Jats of the area. Some 600 families reportedly
fled Kumher. The BJP was the ruling party in Rajasthan in 1992 and
Bhairon Singh Shekhawat the Chief Minister.

P.L. Mimroth, founder of the Centre for Dalit Rights (CDR), recalls
not only the incident but the struggle to make public the report of
the K.S. Lodha Commission (also called the Kumher Inquiry Commission).
The commission readied its report in 1996. The report, says Mimroth,
was never tabled; only an Action Taken Report was submitted by the BJP
government in 2006, after a lot of pressure was put through the
courts, though the government claimed that it had tabled the actual
report. "I asked many legislators. They denied seeing a copy of the
Lodha Commission report," he said.

Mimroth added that he could not obtain a copy of the report until
2006; he got it only after filing a writ petition and a petition under
the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In 1992, Mimroth was the general
secretary of the Society of Depressed People for Social Justice and
had deposed before the Lodha Commission. "I have three gunny bags of
affidavits relating to the Kumher case," says Mimroth, who was
entrusted with the task of conducting an inquiry by the National
Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), an organisation based in Delhi.

Since 1992, there have been many incidents involving violence and
atrocities against Dalits but none evoked the kind of revulsion
"Kumher kaand" did. It started with a clash in a cinema hall when some
Jatav youth were manhandled. Then the cinema hall was pelted with
stones and rumours were spread that the modesty of upper-caste women
had been outraged. The frenzy that was built up soon metamorphosed
into an organised pogrom against Jatavs. Water supply to the Jatav
locality was disconnected and the hutments were set afire.

In Bharatpur that day, Jats of 46 villages held a caste panchayat
where aggressive speeches were made. Barring the victims and people
representing them, no one else, including those representing the
administration, found anything harmful in the aggressive posturing.

It is not surprising that the writ of caste and community panchayats
continues to run in the face of administrative apathy and nonchalance
in parts of western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. As a result the
democratic rights of the poor, women and the socially marginalised are
violated regularly. With widening economic inequalities and a section
desirous of seeking the rights guaranteed under the Constitution, such
clashes and tensions are likely to increase.

Most conflicts are related to land. The record of implementing land
reforms is very poor in Rajasthan. There are at least 10
atrocity-prone districts but the State government has not declared a
single one as such and the administrative infrastructure to deal with
them under the provisions of the S.C./S.T. Act are missing. Of the 33
districts, only 17 have special courts to deal with atrocities against
Dalits. "The Act provides for all these. It is a stringent and
exhaustive piece of legislation provided it is implemented," said


A Dalit woman who was assaulted twice allegedly by a contractor
appointed under the NREGA at Tikel village, 60 km from Jaipur, in

Curiously, in 1992, the advent of the Act seemed to have a direct
bearing on the events that led to the Kumher incident. Among the many
submissions made to the Lodha Commission, there was one, made by the
Zila Nyaya Sangharsh Samiti, claiming that following the advent of the
Act, Jatavs had trumped up several false cases against upper-caste
people and that Congress politicians, with a view to suppress Jats had
always appointed Jatavs in key posts in Bharatpur district. It was
ironic that even this did little to prevent the carnage. The Sangharsh
Samiti concluded that Jatavs were not Dalits, that they were
economically sound.

Another organisation to submit a statement of facts was the Bharatiya
Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the BJP, which held, among other
things, that in Bharatpur district, the relationship between Jatavs
and Jats was very cordial and that only political parties such as the
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) provided an impetus to the caste conflict.
The Lodha Commission rubbished this assertion but averred that there
had been indiscriminate use of the S.C./S.T. Act, which fractured
"reciprocal relations between Jats and Jatavs at Kumher and its

While the Lodha Commission made broadly progressive recommendations
and observations, it noted that the S.C./S.T. Act had become "the
prime circumstance for deteriorated (sic) mutual harmony between
Jatavs and other upper castes". It is baffling that a piece of
legislation, by its use, should lead to disharmony unless it upset the
status quo to a large extent. More surprising is the fact that no
government wanted the Lodha Commission report made public.

Eastern Rajasthan borders certain districts of Uttar Pradesh, which in
that period had seen the rise of the BSP. Whether this acted as a
catalyst is not certain, though clashes between Jatavs and Jats in
these areas were reportedly common. The Lodha Commission was critical
of the district administration for not carrying out preventive arrests
and not issuing prohibitory orders. Instead, the Commission noted, an
elaborate exercise was undertaken against Jatavs.

As in most States, the rate of registration of crimes against Dalits
in Rajasthan is not very high. All ruling parties have done little to
remedy this. A study conducted by the CDR in 2008 found that of the
total 1,261 cases of atrocities against Dalits that year, nearly 380
related to the practice of untouchability; 149 related to violence
against women; 140 involved land disputes; and 181 pertained to
violence during elections.

Vasudev, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist),
explained that eastern Rajasthan was particularly vulnerable to caste
violence owing to the benefits of education percolating down. However,
he said, the tribal people of southern Rajasthan were in a much worse

"Until and unless there is an organised protest, no first information
report [FIRs] is registered. We need to bring land reforms centre
stage," he said, adding that the increasing economic deprivation of
these sections made them more vulnerable than before. He mentioned the
gangrape of a Dalit college student on August 15 at Neem Ka Thana in
Sikar district. It was only after the CPI(M) and other organisations
made a hue and cry the culprits, all upper-caste youth, were arrested.

The situation of S.Ts was no less different. Barring one dominant
section residing in the eastern parts of the State, which benefited
most from the reservation policy, the tribal people of southern
Rajasthan remain more or less where they were before Independence.

Said Vasudev: "Twenty years ago, at a meeting in Dungarpur, I asked a
group of Bhils what their concept of heaven was. An old lady, Mangi
Bai, said heaven for her meant a bowl of sweet laapi [wheat porridge],
a guthdi [a cover made from old clothes] and a jhompi [hut]. They
dream of the same things even today."

A State secretariat member of the CPI(M), Dhuli Chand Meena, who is
associated with the Kisan Sabha in southern Rajasthan, said the
atrocities against the tribal people were mainly land-related. In
those parts, where the remnants of feudalism still persisted along
with mixed populations, discrimination existed in the form of denying
the tribal people the right to sit on cots or in chairs or even wear
proper clothes, he said.

"Whenever cases are registered, they are not followed up and
cognisable offences are not registered. The conviction rates for
atrocities committed against the tribal people are very low. In fact,
what can be said for the S.Cs can be safely extended to the S.Ts as
well, the only difference being that all the human development
indicators of the S.Ts in southern Rajasthan are very poor when
compared with even the rest of the State," Dhuli Chand Meena said.

If anything, the Act, along with other laws such as the Forest Rights
Act, needs to be implemented rigorously. For a social reform measure
to succeed one of the basic prerequisites is political will, which
seems to be lacking.

By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan
in Bathani Tola and Patna

"THE senas [militia] are not very active and there have been no big
attacks or mass killings. But life is still the same. We are here and
they are there, in different parts of the village, with not much
communication or contact. And, of course, there is the fear that
something may break out unexpectedly. We need to keep vigil all the
time." This was how Lal Chand Chaudhary, 55, described the present
situation at Bathani Tola in Bihar's Bhojpur district.

Thirteen years ago, on July 11, 1996, he, a Dalit, lost his wife,
Sancharu Devi, and one-and–a-half-year-old girl child, Baby Sugandhi,
when members of the Ranveer Sena, the self-professed militia of the
upper-caste Bhumihar community, launched a ferocious attack on the
hamlet. Among the 22 people killed were 12 women and eight children.
Lal Chand got a compensation of Rs.1 lakh from the government and help
to set up a telephone booth, but that did not change social equations.
As he says, his community of Dalits and a clutch of Muslims occupy the
Tola and the Bhumihars stay a little distance away in the main part
called Barki Kharaon.

Lal Chand and many others, including his neighbour Phaguni Chaudhary,
whose mother and brother were killed that day, made bold to stay on in
Bathani Tola and show that they would not succumb to terror. But not
so Naimuddeen, the bangle seller who lost six members of his family in
the attack; he moved to Ara, the district headquarters of Bhojpur. He,
too, got a compensation for the lives lost and the job of a peon in a
government office in Ara.


Lal Chand Chaudhary (sitting) lost his wife and infant daughter in the
massacre of Dalits by the Ranveer Sena at Bathani Tola village in
Bihar's Bhojpur district in 1996. Twenty-two Dalits were killed in the
attack. While many Dalits fled the village, Chaudhary stayed back and
now runs a telephone booth at his house along with his son.

Talking to Frontline, Naimuddeen said that though he has a job the
governments that came to power since 1996 are yet to fulfil the
promises and assurances they gave. "As I lost six of my kin, the then
government offered jobs to two survivors in the family. But the
promise made to my son is yet to be kept despite our submitting
innumerable applications to successive governments over the past
decade," he says.

Naimuddeen adds that the administration has failed to address the
security concerns of the family. "As a family that got ravaged in a
gruesome caste attack, I had asked for a gun licence to protect
myself, but that has been denied systematically. There is the
propaganda that the Ranveer Sena is a dead organisation, but that is
entirely untrue," he says. "They are regrouping under a new leadership
and have stepped up their activities in many places, including Bhojpur
district. The only succour we have is from the Communist Party of
India (Marxist-Leninist-Liberation) led by leaders like Dipankar

The CPI (ML) has been active in the village since the early 1970s and
has been winning panchayat elections in and around Bathani Tola since
1978. According to a number of Dalits and Muslims, this political
affiliation does help in keeping the balance of power in the village.
Still, there are stray attacks and skirmishes. Last year, two young
men of the Tola, Dhanesh Kanu and his friend Tarakeshwar Yadav, were
killed in the Barki Kharaon area. Kanu, a plus-two student, had gone
for a function in his school and had taken a short-cut close to Barki
Kharaon. He and Tarakeshwar Yadav were done to death in that part of
the village. Kanu's aunt Kunti Devi said her nephew was killed by
members of the upper-caste militia in a clear instance of caste
killing. However, the local police and the administration treated this
as a case of personal vendetta.

According to activists of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights
(NCDHR), such official apathy is nothing new and is not confined to
places like Bathani Tola. They point out that the families of the 10
Dalit victims belonging to the Nat community, who were lynched by
upper-caste people on September 13, 2007, in Dhelpruva village in
Vaishali district, were also given similar treatment by the
administration. However, political mobilisation by different Dalit
organisations, including the Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party
(LJP), the CPI(ML) and the NCDHR, has strengthened the resolve of
Dalit communities in many parts of the State to fight for their

Lakshmanpur-Bathe, where 58 Dalits, including women and children, were
killed on December 1, 1997, by Ranveer Sena activists, is cited as a
case in point by many observers. Dalits of the village have reportedly
become more organised after the incident and demand their rights in a
collective and effective manner.

This has curtailed the strike power of many upper-caste militias. For
25 years, starting from the mid-1970s, Bihar had a large number of
active upper-caste militia groups, making the State synonymous with
atrocities against the S.C. Over 80 armed attacks took place against
Dalits and other oppressed sections during this period and claimed
more than 300 lives. Such rampant attacks have come down in the past
five years.

However, as the people of Bathani Tola, including Lal Chand Chaudhary,
noted, this by itself has not brought about dramatic changes in the
social equations or in the discrimination against Dalits. A fear that
things can take a turn for the worse rules large sections of the Dalit
population in Bihar even today and the community exists in a state of
eternal vigil.

By S. Dorairaj in Chennai

IF the Kizhavenmani carnage of Dalits in 1968 in the then composite
Thanjavur district is an indelible blot on the history of Tamil Nadu,
there followed many more such crimes, each more heinous than the
previous one. The Melavalavu multiple murders, the Tamiraparani
massacre, the Kodiyankulam violence, the Nalumoolaikinaru atrocities,
the Thinniyam humiliation and the murder of democracy in Pappapatti
and three other reserved village panchayats where elections were
scuttled for 10 years were the worst among them. The enactment of the
S.C./S.T. Act in 1989 and the notification of its Rules in 1995 made
no difference to this horrible situation.

According to the State Crime Records Bureau, from 2003 to 2008 a total
of 8,209 crimes against Dalits were reported, including 5,047 cases
under the S.C./S.T. Act and 3,162 under the IPC. The average
conviction rate in both categories was only 24.26 per cent. But
Evidence, a Madurai-based NGO, has put the average conviction rate in
the cases registered under the S.C./S.T. Act alone at 5 per cent to 7
per cent.

Progressive and secular forces by their concerted efforts have
recorded resounding successes in the legal battle against casteist
forces in a few cases. In the Melavalavu (Madurai district) case,
relating to the gruesome killing of the local panchayat president K.
Murugesan and five other Dalits on June 30, 1997, the Supreme Court
upheld the life sentence awarded to 17 persons in its order on October
22, 2009.

Uthapuram in Madurai district is another success story where a part of
the "wall of untouchability" put up by casteist forces was demolished
and the victims of police excesses were paid a total compensation of
Rs.15 lakh on the recommendation of the inquiry commission appointed
by the Madras High Court in January last. The Dalits' struggle to end
caste oppression in the village had the complete backing of the Tamil
Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), the CPI(M) and the All
India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA).

Much ahead of these two cases, the apex court gave a landmark judgment
in a case relating to police excesses in Nalumoolaikinaru in Tuticorin
district in 1992, holding 82 police personnel, including a Deputy
Inspector General of Police and the Superintendent of Police, guilty.
The court also ordered disbursement of compensation, totalling Rs.23
lakh, to the victims, who were represented by AIDWA.

In several other cases, the perpetrators of violence went scot-free.
Notable among these is the Kodiyankulam violence of August 31, 1995,
in which the police let loose terror in a Dalit habitation, and the
Thamiraparani massacre of July 23, 1999, which claimed 17 lives when
the police launched a brutal attack on a rally of estate workers in
Tirunelveli town even as they ran towards the river in a bid to

In the Thinniyam torment of May 22, 2002, the accused got away with a
mild punishment though they had committed the grave crime of forcing
two Dalits to eat each other's excreta. The issue was brought to the
notice of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National
S.C.-S.T. Commission by the Tamil Nadu People's Watch.

One reason why only a small number of cases are registered is that
Dalits do not file complaints against the dominant communities fearing
reprisal, as they depend mostly on the landholders for their
livelihood. The time-consuming nature of litigation also forces them
to keep away from police stations, says P. Sampath, TNUEF convener.
"Even if they lodge a complaint under the S.C./S.T. Act, the police
ask the caste Hindus to lodge a counter complaint so that a criminal
case is filed against the Dalits, too. The negligible conviction rate
in cases under the S.C./S.T. Act also demoralises the oppressed
sections," he adds.

Senior advocate P. Rathinam, who has fought many cases of atrocities
against Dalits, says that most of the crimes against the oppressed
sections are not registered under the S.C./S.T. Act. "Even when they
are registered, the first information report is diluted deliberately.
In certain cases, due compensation, as per an order issued by the
State government in 1998, is not disbursed to the victims," he

A. Kathir, director of Evidence, has urged the State government to
conduct a detailed review of the implementation of the various aspects
of the S.C./S.T. Act, such as the registering of cases and the
preparation of charge sheets. Of a total of 6.68 lakh cases of
cognisable crimes reported in 2008, only 0.24 per cent were under the
S.C./S.T. Act.

The special courts set up by the government for quick disposal of
cases relating to atrocities against Dalits need better infrastructure
to achieve their objective, he says. "A detailed survey on the
atrocity-prone villages is the need of the hour," he added.

As per official data, discriminatory practices against Dalits exist in
28 districts in the State, which has been ruled by the two major
Dravidian parties – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India
Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) – since 1967.

Policy note

The government's policy note on the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare
Department for 2009-2010 refers to the "effective implementation" of
the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, and the S.C./S.T. Act to
abolish untouchability and to prevent atrocities against Dalits. It
speaks about the role of the human rights and social justice wing of
the State police in enforcing the provisions of the two Acts and of
the four special sessions courts functioning in Tiruchi, Thanjavur,
Madurai and Tirunelveli for the speedy disposal of cases.


One of the Dalit victims of an atrocity in 2002 at Thinniyam village
in TamilNadu's Tiruchi district during an inquiry by the then District
Collector K.Manivasan. He and another Dalit were forced to eat each
other's excreta.

However, the government's efforts to create awareness against
untouchability have had very little impact going by Minister for Adi
Dravidar Welfare A. Tamilarasi's own admission in the policy note,
which was tabled in the Assembly on July 3. In it she says the message
of the "mass awareness campaign and the social justice tea parties"
launched by the government has reached only six lakh people so far.
Cosmetic measures will do nothing to bring about any significant
change in the prevailing scenario, says P. Sampath. Several other
activists who have been working for the welfare of Dalits in a
focussed manner also feel that radical socio-economic programmes have
to be implemented for the empowerment of Dalits and to end disparities
in terms of productive resources such as land, finance, education and
employment, besides taking stringent measures against the perpetrators
of atrocities against them.

This becomes particularly important in a State where Dalits are
numerically a significant section. As per the 2001 Census, Dalits form
19 per cent and the S.Ts 1.04 per cent, of the total population of
6.24 crore. Of the 385 blocks in the State, 153 have more than 25 per
cent Dalit population and around 3,550 villages have more than 40 per
cent Dalit population. S.Cs and S.Ts constitute more than 20 per cent
of the population in six of the 30 districts (as of 2008). Among them,
in Tiruvarur they form 32.35 per cent, Nilgris 31.23 per cent,
Perambalur 30.21 per cent, Cuddalore 27.76 per cent and Villupuram
27.39 per cent.

Official data for 2008 indicate that curbing atrocities against the
oppressed sections is a formidable task. There are 186 villages
classified as "atrocity prone" and 230 that are "dormant atrocity
prone". Among them, 166 villages have been described as "highly

Various social indicators make it amply clear that the State has a
poor record of empowerment of Dalits. According to official sources,
31.2 per cent of the Dalit population in rural areas and 40.2 per cent
in urban areas are among the below-poverty-line social groups.
Official documents also point out that the literacy level of Dalits is
much lower than the general literacy rate. According to the 2001
Census, as against the State's general literacy rate of 76.2 per cent,
only 63.2 per cent of Dalits and 41.5 per cent of members of the S.Ts
are literate. The lack of political will for radical land reforms and
redistribution of surplus land to landless Dalits has contributed to
conflicts in the rural areas. Even official sources point out that
though 83.08 lakh Dalits live in villages, only 10 per cent of them
are cultivators. Around 90 per cent of these cultivators have less
than one hectare of land. As per the 2001 Census, 58.5 per cent of
Dalits are agricultural workers and 29 per cent fall in the "other
workers" category.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's statement on November 11 that surplus
land has been distributed to 61,985 landless Dalits under the Tamil
Nadu Land Reforms (Reduction of Ceiling on Land) Act, 1970, only shows
the yawning gap between the Dalits' quest for land and the
government's response, a veteran leader of the All India Kisan Sabha
points out.

Demanding a holistic approach to the issue, the TNUEF, an umbrella
organisation of 45 State-level class and mass outfits and 15 Dalit and
human rights associations, took out a rally in Chennai on October 27.
Besides calling for the strict implementation of the S.C./S.T. Act and
the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, it called for steps to
redeem the 2.5 lakh acres (one lakh hectares) of "panchami" lands
grabbed from Dalits. Setting up of a State Commission for S.C.-S.T.
welfare; the formation of district-level panels with due
representation to Dalit organisations and secular forces to monitor
the implementation of these two Acts; and the raising of the
percentage of reservation for S.Cs to 19, commensurate with their
population, are among the other demands of the front.

By Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed in Bangalore

ON August 2, 1987, in Bendigere village of Belgaum district in
northern Karnataka, four S.C. youth were forced to eat human excreta
by caste Hindus who accused them of stealing maize. According to
excerpts from a report of the Karnataka Legislature Committee for the
Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the year 1987-88,
the upper-caste men abused the Dalit youth using their caste name and
threatened them: "You bloody fellows, go and bring human shit and eat
it, otherwise you will have to face severe consequences."

Several days went by before this gross act was even reported, but the
incident (along with other such instances across the country) was
responsible for the inclusion of Section 3(1)(i) in the S.C./S.T. Act.
However, the Act has not led to any significant reduction in
atrocities reported against Dalits in the State.

According to the 2001 Census, the S.Cs constituted slightly over 16
per cent of the State's population and the S.Ts around 6.5 per cent.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2007,
there were 205 incidents of crime against members of the S.Cs and
1,844 incidents against members of the S.Ts. This is partly because
Dalits, more than Adivasis, have fixed roles in the political economy
of a populated area.

According to the Directorate of Civil Rights Enforcement, a
State-level body that looks into complaints regarding atrocities
against members of the S.Cs and the S.Ts, the number of convictions
under the Act is insignificant. The majority of the cases are either
pending trial or are classified as "B reports" (meaning that the
complaint itself has been proved wrong or false).

According to the NCRB's statistics, Karnataka ranks sixth in the
country in the number of crimes against S.Cs and eighth in crimes
against S.Ts. (By population, Karnataka ranks ninth in the country.)

According to S. Japhet, Director of the Centre for the Study of Social
Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School of India
University, part of the reason why the Act has failed to deter
atrocities against Dalits is that Karnataka has some of the lowest
conviction rates for complaints made under it. Japhet was the
coordinator for a research that led to a report in 2005 evaluating the
performance of special courts that were set up for dealing with cases
of atrocities under the S.C./S.T. Act.

According to Japhet, this is one of the most serious drawbacks in the
implementation of the Act. "In the majority of districts in the
country, there are no special courts as mandated by the provisions of
this Act," he said. Between 1997 and 2000, only four districts in
Karnataka had the special courts compared with 12 in Andhra Pradesh,
10 in Gujarat, 35 in Madhya Pradesh, 17 in Rajasthan and 40 in Uttar

According to K.L. Chandrashekhar Aijoor, research assistant at the
same centre where Japhet works, the number of special courts in
Karnataka has only gone up to seven now, but considering that every
district is supposed to have a special court, Karnataka should have 29
such courts. (These are usually sessions courts that are briefly
designated as special courts to deal with cases under the Act.)


One of the most glaring examples of the failure of the Act in
Karnataka was the acquittal of all the accused in the March 2000
massacre of seven Dalits at Kambalapalli village in Kolar district,
around 80 kilometres from Bangalore. The massacre took place after a
skirmish between Vokkaligas and Dalits. The gruesome killings were the
result of a cumulative build-up of tension between the Vokkaliga and
the increasingly aware Dalit communities in the region.

The immediate provocation was an altercation between two Dalit youth
and a Reddy (Vokkaliga) man over the use of a certain stretch of road.
Following this a mob of Vokkaligas attacked a group of Dalits who had
returned after filing a police complaint. The houses of a Dalit and
his neighbour were burnt. Among the seven Dalits who died were a woman
and her two sons and daughter.

According to media reports, the witnesses turned hostile when the case
came up for hearing in the local court. All the accused were
acquitted. The matter is waiting to be heard in the Karnataka High

Such prolonged delay demonstrates that the twofold purpose of the Act
– to prevent atrocities and to provide compensation and rehabilitation
to victims after a speedy trial – has not been fulfilled.

More than 25 per cent of the population in Kolar is Dalit and the
district has a history of caste violence. In the decades before the
massacre, there was resentment over the establishment of a Dalit
Sangharsh Samiti (DSS) chapter in the district. Part of the discord
between upper and lower castes stems from the seemingly upward
mobility of Dalits.

Karnataka has an active Dalit movement, which started in the 1970s. As
its effects began to filter down, the consciousness among Dalits about
their constitutional rights increased. This has led to a change in
their attitude towards caste. The upper castes have resented this
change. Even trivial things like the way a Dalit dressed annoyed
upper-caste members. In Kambalapalli, for example, one of the victims
used to tuck in his shirt.

A report on the Kambalapalli carnage published by the People's
Democratic Forum in April 2000 said: "The tucked-in shirt is like a
red rag for caste Hindus, for it symbolised the growing arrogance of
Dalits and their modernisation."

While the conscious identity of Dalits has led to resentment from the
upper castes in rural areas, even urban areas like Bangalore are not
immune to caste discrimination. "Over the past two years, two Dalit
students committed suicide in Bangalore – one was a student of the
Indian Institute of Science, while the other was a student of the
University of Agricultural Sciences. The prejudiced mindset of
caste-Hindu society led to creating a situation where these students
committed suicide," said Lolaksha, a social activist who follows
closely the instances of discrimination against Dalits in the State.

By Aparna Alluri in Hyderabad

LALITHA (name changed on request), 25, is awaiting her court summons.
A member of the women's wing of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi
(MRPS), she was active in her local community until she became a
victim herself.

As part of community initiatives, she often visited the local police
station. When a new circle inspector was appointed in March 2008, she
had a minor altercation with him. She says his immediate response was,
"You are a Madiga and you are wearing sunglasses, driving a bike and
walking around so confidently. Who do you think you are?"

"For nearly eight months, every time I met him, he repeated the same
thing. He abused me by my caste name several times." The verbal taunts
soon escalated to sexual overtures. When she questioned him about
complaints she had received against him, things became worse. "In
November, I was arrested and detained for one night. He threatened me,
shoved me against a wall and warned me against confronting him again.
I was shifted to the women's police station only at 1-30 a.m.," she

Her case is pending with the State Human Rights Commission. She is yet
to file an FIR against the officer for fear of further harassment. "I
don't know what else to do," she says. "He expects me to cower in
fear, but why should I?" she says. "I am educated, I know right from
wrong and I know my rights. In what way am I lesser than he?"

Lalitha's case is more the rule than the exception. Counter-cases have
become an easy recourse to delaying and eventually denying justice to
historically disadvantaged groups. "For every case filed by a Dalit
there is a counter case against him/her by the accused," says M.
Chalapathi, High Court advocate and Dalit rights coordinator, Human
Rights Law Network (HRLN).

"The police register the second complaint and arrest the Dalit victim,
compelling him/her to withdraw the case. Or, they keep both cases
pending and use the case as ammunition when the victim pressures them
to act," says Bojja Tarakam, eminent lawyer and Dalit rights activist.

This remains the situation, even after 12 of the State's 23 districts
have been identified as atrocity-prone by the government. Attack is
the most common form of atrocity, accounting for 27 per cent of the

Of the State's population of 7,62,10,007 (2004-05), the S.Cs
constitute 1,23,39,496 and the S.Ts 50,24,104. Dalits belong mainly to
two castes – Mala and Madiga – and are agricultural labourers. The
land-owning, politically dominant groups are Reddys, Kammas, Rajus and
Kapus. This social and economic polarisation has had significant
political implications. The 1980s marked the advent of the Telugu
Desam Party (TDP) and the rise of the Dalit movement. N.T. Rama Rao's
rise to power is often seen as the political ascendancy of coastal
Andhra's rich Kamma farmers. The atrocities against Dalits in
Karamchedu (1985), Neerukonda (1987) and Chundur (1991) were seen as
manifestations of a conflict caused by the shift in political power at
the top and the rising consciousness below.

More than two decades later, the State's record in checking atrocities
against Dalits remains poor. According to figures with the Department
of Social Welfare, 4,157 cases were registered in 2008 under the
S.C./S.T. Act. Of these, 1,783 cases were closed as false and 1,004
are pending completion of investigation. For the same period, out of
3,661 cases brought to court, only 128 resulted in convictions.
Interestingly, only in eight cases appeals were filed on the

As for visits by the Vigilance and Monitoring Committees prescribed
under the Act, only 45 visits were recorded for 19 districts in 2008.
Information was cited as unavailable for the remaining four districts.

Currently, there is a writ petition pending in the Andhra Pradesh High
Court demanding the effective implementation of the S.C./S.T. Act,
1989, and Rules 1995.

The counter-affidavits filed by the police in response to the petition
speak for themselves. Police records in the period from 1995 to 2006
show that 21,000 cases were registered under the Act. Of these, more
than 14,000 are pending without a charge sheet being filed, even
though the Act stipulates that investigation must be completed within
30 days of the FIR being filed. "This is a clear violation of Section
4 of the Act, which deals with dereliction of duty," says Chalapathi.

The petition demands that criminal proceedings be initiated against
those police officers who fail to discharge their duties as prescribed
under the Act. "The Act insists on special courts and special public
prosecutors to enable speedy trial. But cases have been pending for
nearly 10 years in the investigation stage itself," says Bojja
Tarakam. "Yet not a single police officer has been prosecuted for

He says one reason for such high pendency is the many attempts to
quash cases by claiming that they are false. "When the High Court
receives such a petition, it stays all further proceedings, including
investigation, though the Supreme Court has directed the High Court
not to interfere in investigations."

However, the reasons for delay cited in the counter-affidavits are far
more incredulous. The reasons include "for want of accused", "for want
of examination of witness", "no post-mortem report", "no FSL [forensic
science laboratory] certificate", even for cases pending since 1995.
Even VIP duty is submitted as a reason for numerous investigations
pending since 1996.

"Whose fault is that?" asks Chalapathi. "Is this not negligence of duty?"

The delay itself seems to have become the reason in many instances.
"Case Diary not available and as such unable to furnish the exact
reason for delay," or "as the case was registered in 1998, reasons not
known to present Investigating Officer," reads one entry in the
register. "Close to 105 reasons have been furnished and not one is
legally substantial," says Chalapathi.

"I have personally told police officers that they may be technically
right in closing certain cases, but the matter doesn't end there. If
witnesses turn hostile, they need to ask why that has happened," says
A. Vidyasagar, former Commissioner of Social Welfare. He agrees that
special courts do exist, but says "the progress they have made seems
to suggest that cases under the S.C./S.T. Act are only one of the
things they address rather than their priority". He says a review at
the Chief Minister's level in 2008 led to a suggestion that a Deputy
Superintendent of Police (DSP) must be made to supervise the inquiries
in every district. "The idea was accepted," he says. "The only
solution is continuous review."

Trial is a far cry for many because registering a case is often a
struggle by itself. Getting a case registered under the S.C./S.T. Act
is a bigger hurdle. Whether the accused abused the victim by his caste
name is often seen as the grounds for registering cases under the Act.
However, the Act only stipulates that the victim must belong to the
S.C./S.T. community and the accused to another community. If the
victim or his/her family has a Christian name, or is known to go to
church, they are told they cannot register the case under the Act.
"This is sufficient to file a petition quashing the case as false. The
court gives the victims 15 days to file an objection, failing which
the case is closed. Given that most of these people are poor and
uneducated, they may not respond in time," says Chalapathi.

Curiously, caste certificates are often demanded not just to register
a case but also for the investigation to proceed. In numerous cases,
this was cited as the reason for the delay in the investigation.

The hurdles are many and victories have been few and far between. Even
as hundreds wait for justice, police records and trials only present a
part of the picture. "Untouchability is still rampant. Dalits are
still not treated as humans. Where is the question of human rights?"
asks Chalapathi.


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[ZESTCaste] Walls in minds


Walls in minds


The Prevention of Atrocities Act needs more teeth, and dominant castes
should see their own enlightened self-interests in upholding Dalit


The wall in Uthapuram in Madurai district, Tamil Nadu, which, before a
150-metre stretch was demolished by the State government in 2008,
blocked Dalits from entering areas previously under common use. The
wall was built in 1989, the year the Prevention of Atrocities Act came
into force.

THE caste system, of which "untouchability" is an integral part, has
taken shape as a mechanism by which advantages, positions of privilege
and opportunities for advancement can be secured in favour of a
minority of the population while the majority is confined to the role
of providing agricultural labour and other labour and services, many
of them demeaning, and to that of supplying primary and secondary
goods on exploitative terms, which keeps it deprived of opportunities
for upward mobility.

Those in the lowest tier of this system, consisting mainly of
agricultural castes and other labour castes (the "safai" castes, for
instance), have now been classified as Scheduled Castes (S.Cs). The
scourge of caste is the severest on them and they often face

The castes placed just above the S.Cs are those of artisans and
artisanal/artisan-like producers, the pastoral castes and the castes
of those rendering inferior services, all of whom belong to the
category of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBCs), also
referred to as the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The next higher tier
consists of castes of peasants most, but not all, of which have been
categorised as Backward Classes (B.Cs). At the top are the castes that
hold positions/occupations of privilege and prestige, referred to as
the advanced/forward castes. The Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts), the bulk of
whom live in their tribal homelands, are outside the caste system but
are subjected to various disadvantages and deprivations that keep them
at the lowest level of society and economy along with the S.Cs.

The "discipline" of "untouchability" was adequate over the centuries
to confine the agricultural labour castes and what are now known as
the S.Cs to labour-providing roles. Similarly, the confinement of the
S.Ts in remote areas was enough to keep them at the bottom of society
and the economy. However, the reformist, nationalist and revolutionary
movements of the last century and a half and the movements inspired by
B.R. Ambedkar instilled in the S.Cs a new awareness. Untouchability
and the philosophy of the caste system came under challenge. A new
instrument of discipline had to be forged and atrocities against S.Cs
and S.Ts started taking place.

The trend can be traced to the 19th century in parts of India. A
committee that toured British India in the 1920s for a review of the
working of the Government of India Act, 1919, noted that many
atrocities were being committed against the "untouchables" but were
going unnoticed and unpunished because no witness would come forward
to give evidence.

Dr Ambedkar, then a Member of the Legislative Council of Bombay, cited
some early instances of atrocities against Dalits in Annexure A to the
Statement submitted by him to the Indian Statutory Commission (Simon
Commission) on behalf of the Bahishkrita Hitakarini Sabha on May 29,
1928, including the rioting and mass assaults on Dalits on March 20,
1927, for asserting their right to drinking water from the public
Chowdar tank in Mahad, Kolaba district, and the mass assaults on and
burning down of the dwellings of Balais (S.C.) in Indore district.

After Independence

After Independence, one of the early indications of simmering caste
animosities came with the Ramanathapuram riots of 1957 after the
assassination of the young, educated Dalit leader Immanuel Sekaran,
who had refused to follow caste-based customs of social interaction.
The signal hardly registered on the all-India radar, though the State
government under K. Kamaraj took strong measures to quell the attacks
on S.Cs.

But the national leadership and Parliament sat up and took notice
after the Keezhavenmani massacre, on Christmas eve in 1968, in which
44 S.C. people were burnt to death in Tamil Nadu. Then there was the
gruesome killing of Kotesu in Kanchikacherla in 1969 in Andhra
Pradesh, which was defended by a State Minister. After that, there
were many other instances of violence against the oppressed castes in
different parts of the country in quick succession.

Monitoring atrocities

The Government of India, under pressure from the Dalit Members of
Parliament, started monitoring atrocities against the S.Cs from 1974,
and those against the S.Ts from 1981. The focus was on murder, rape,
arson and grievous hurt.

There was a spurt in atrocities from 1977. This, and a statement of
the then Union Home Minister advancing a shocking argument, apparently
to play down the seriousness of the situation, resulted in an outcry
and the creation of the post of Joint Secretary in the Ministry of
Home Affairs in charge of the subject of S.Cs and B.Cs. I was then in
the post of Joint Secretary under the Ministry of Commerce/Industry
and volunteered for this post. Apart from utilising this opportunity
to conceptualise, create and launch the Special Component Plan (SCP)
for S.Cs and a scheme of Central Assistance to the S.C. and S.T.
Development Corporations of the States and Special Central Assistance
to the State SCPs (the last of which could materialise only after the
regime change in 1980), I took up on top priority the task of
monitoring atrocities.

This I converted from mere receipt and transmission of statistical
information into an active pursuit of individual gruesome cases such
as the ones in Belchi, Bodh Gaya, Chainpur, Marathwada,
Chikkabasavanahalli and Indravalli. Special courts with special judges
were set up for specific cases by State governments and special
prosecutors were chosen carefully. This helped to secure quick trials
and convictions. I continued this practice after the regime change in
1980 and pursued the atrocities at Pipra, Kafalta, Jetalpur, and so
on. This produced a crop of convictions and punishments, including
death sentences in Belchi.

An important landmark is the historical letter of Union Home Minister
Giani Zail Singh dated March 10, 1983, to all State Chief Minister and
Governors, candidly touching the root of atrocities and clearly
mapping the preventive, punitive, rehabilitative and personnel
measures required. The letter is now forgotten, but its contents have
found place in the Prevention of Atrocities Act & Rules. It was
prepared by me in the white heat of the Pipra massacre of February
27-28, 1980.

Atrocities, however, continued to take place as the Centre and State
governments evaded addressing basic contradictions, vulnerabilities
and causative factors. Only the symptoms of the problem were treated,
and palliative measures were taken where radical solutions were

In his Independence Day address from the Red Fort in 1987, Prime
Minister Rajiv Gandhi, under continued pressure from Dalit MPs and
leaders, said that an Act would be passed to check atrocities against
the oppressed castes. I was called back from the State and appointed
as Special Commissioner for S.Cs (the pre-1992 constitutional
machinery under Article 338).

I had the privilege of helping in translating the Prime Minister's
policy announcement into a Bill and conceptualising its frame and
content. The S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act came into
force with the President's assent on September 11, 1989. Subsequently,
after I was appointed Secretary, Ministry of Welfare, I got the Act
operationalised with effect from January 30, 1990. Though the frame
and part of the content I pressed for came into the Act, some
important provisions which I had proposed did not find place, which
made the Act less effective than it could have been.

Impact of the Act

The Act came as a watershed in the jurisprudence of protection for the
S.Cs and S.Ts and their better coverage by the Right to Life under
Article 21.

Its potential was immediately recognised positively by scholars such
as Upendra Baxi and negatively by certain Chief Ministers belonging to
the dominant upper castes or dominant middle castes, including the
land-owning B.Cs, which tried soft-pedalling/backsliding tactics.

Over time, the Act created a certain measure of confidence in S.C. and
S.T. communities that they had a protective cover and also a wariness
in potential perpetrators of atrocities. Yet, atrocities continue as
basic contradictions, vulnerabilities and root causes continue to
remain unresolved.

The benefits of this basically and conceptually sound Act has not
fully, or even largely, reached the S.Cs and S.Ts on account of
deficiencies in the Act and in various aspects of its implementation.

Basic contradictions

Because of the traditional socio-economic structure and system, still
largely prevalent today, most S.Cs live typically in a situation where
they form the major segment/majority of agricultural wage-labourers
but a minority of the population. This is true of not less than 80 per
cent of the S.Cs as they are less urbanised than other communities
(only 20 per cent against the average of 32 per cent in 2001).

The juxtaposition, typical of the Indian village, of a caste of
agricultural labourers (S.C.) with a caste of land-based dominant
upper castes/dominant middle castes and dominant middle B.Cs, to which
most of the large landowners belong, provides an explosive situation
that can be ignited by any spark.

This juxtaposition is accompanied by dissonance caused by continuing
economic dependence of S.Cs on their oppressors though they have
rejected the ideology of inequality and subservience; contradictions
between socio-economic realities and socio-ideological and
socio-psychological factors; and contradictions between the aspiration
for equality from below and atavistic yearnings above.

The state has been unwilling or unable to intervene actively in the
caste situation because the leadership, both at the national and State
level, is drawn from or is dependent on socially and economically
powerful persons belonging to dominant upper and middle castes and
dominant B.Cs.

The Dalits' demand for land and better wages and their resistance to
discrimination and demands for modern, civilised inter-personal,
inter-community relations are opposed by major
land-owning/land-controlling dominant upper and middle castes and
dominant middle B.Cs.

Even the limited upward mobility and consequent changes in lifestyles,
achieved though hard work, thrift and education, with or without the
aid of reservation, is an eyesore to those who are accustomed to
seeing the S.Cs as only indigent and subservient labourers.

Even the legitimate protection of their rights, such as resistance to
the encroaching of community land, is perceived as intolerable and
insolent rebellion and is resentfully stored in the mind until an
opportunity arises to wreak collective "vengeance", as happened in the
mass arson case in Gohana, Sonepat district, Haryana on August 31,

Members of the much-trumpeted civil society (with a few honourable
exceptions) are either hostile on account of their own dominant caste
origins or indifferent on account of the socio-psychology and
socio-culture fostered over centuries by the caste system.

These basic contradictions ought to have been resolved by resolute and
radical measures such as quick distribution of agricultural land to
all rural S.C. families so that not a single such family remains
landless and dependent on others for its livelihood; similar land
distribution to landless S.T. families in non-tribal areas; stopping
the loss of tribal lands; rescuing S.C. children from the compulsion
to work to supplement their family incomes; setting up a network of
high quality residential schools from Class VI to XII for S.C.
children in every district and mandal/tehsil area and similar schools
for S.Ts (in which one-fourth to one-third of the seats could be
provided for poor non-S.C./non-S.T. children respectively); ensuring
full access and reasonable presence of S.Cs and S.Ts in government and
private educational institutions at all levels through reservation and
other means (Bill for reservation of seats for S.C., S.T. and B.C. in
private educational institutions for which the 93rd Constitutional
Amendment was passed in 2005 is pending after the Act providing
reservation for them in government institutions was upheld by the
Supreme Court on April 10, 2008).

The failure of the Central and State governments to implement these
economic liberation and educational equalisation measures and various
other programmes which are part of the unimplemented
national/constitutional/CMP commitments have been compounded by
certain lacunae in the Act and the failure to ensure the thorough
implementation of the Act even as it is, on account of indifference of
local-level personnel and casualness of high-level personnel (all
subject to honourable exceptions).

Statistics of poor outcome

That is why, as I analysed from the annual reports on the Act (for the
years 1999 to 2003 tabled in the House), only 50 to 60 per cent of the
cases reported to the police lead to charge sheets; only eight to 21
per cent of the cases in which charge sheets are filed go on to the
trial stage. Convictions are secured in only 11 to 13 per cent of the
cases that are tried. The percentage of conviction is only 1 to 2 per
cent when calculated against all cases that reach the court.

While S.Cs and S.Ts may not be aware of statistical details, they are
aware of the acquittals in many serious cases. They are aware, from
their own experience, of indifference, sometimes even hostility, in
investigations and tortuous delays in trial. The perception among
them, therefore, is that the Act and its implementation fall far short
of their expectations and need. As illustrations, one may mention that
in the Tsunduru atrocity case of Andhra Pradesh (August 6, 1991), a
substantive trial could start only in November 2004; the Kumher case
of Rajasthan (June 6, 1992) has been blocked by the appointment of a
judicial inquiry, followed by a Cabinet Committee and then a
Secretaries' Committee; and in Gohana a substantive trial is yet to
start. It is symbolic of the situation that while the Berlin Wall fell
at the same time (September 11, 1989) as this Act was passed, the wall
in Uthapuram (Madurai district, Tamil Nadu) and the wall between Bhim
Nagar and Dare Nagar (Satara district, Maharashtra) to isolate and
keep out Dalits still stand tall. So do the walls in people's minds.

A number of Dalit and human rights organisations and activists have
been engaged in helping and guiding S.C. and S.T. victims and
survivors of atrocities. Their grassroots experience has brought out
specific problems of implementation. These are partly traceable to the
lacunae in the Act and partly to the lackadaisical way in which
individuals are posted in positions of responsibility for actual
day-to-day implementation of the Act, and indifference (subject to
honourable exceptions) at the top levels of the political and
permanent executive at national, State and sub-State levels.

Amendments required

After a series of meetings and consultations, the last of which was on
September 11, 2009, marking the 20th anniversary of the presidential
assent, and flagging off of a campaign upto January 30, 2010 (20th
anniversary of the operationalisation of the Act), a compendium of
amendments required in the Act has been prepared.

The convergent sources from which these proposed amendments have been
put together are the provisions that I proposed in 1988 and 1989 but
which did not find place in the Act; the Dalit Manifesto of 1996,
which I formulated under the auspices of the National Action Forum for
Social Justice and certain subsequent documents, in which some
important provisions had been included; my personal observations
during my visits to the sites of a number of atrocities and the
feedback I have been receiving from victims, social workers and
valuable media reports; the field experience of a large number of
Dalit and human rights organisations in the past 20 years; and
suggestions made in national consultations and meetings based on the
field experience of participants.

The proposed amendments fall under the following categories. (1) Those
required for speedy and fair trial. (2) Inclusion of offences which do
occur but were not specified in the Act in 1989. (3) Effective
protection of victims, including survivors, and witnesses and their
rights. (4) Deletion of words and phrases such as "intent",
"intentionally", and "forcibly" which are not really necessary but
which give a handle to defeat prosecution. (5) Spelling out the duties
of public servants. (6) Extension of the protective umbrella of the
Act to sections of victims who for technical reasons are left out. (7)
Establishment of an effective national authority to monitor and ensure
the proper implementation of the Act. (8) Complementary amendments in
the Constitution, Representation of the People Act and to the Criminal
Procedure Code Amendment Act, 2008.

Democratic movement

The strengthening of the Act is only one aspect of the struggle. The
other part is to build up a powerful and peaceful democratic movement
all over the country, encompassing S.Cs and S.Ts as well as other
patriotic members of the general society in order to bring home to the
government and all arms of the government that they should give the
highest priority to the actual implementation of the Act and deliver
full protection to the S.Cs and S.Ts on the basis of the principle of
zero tolerance of atrocities. This has to be accompanied by measures
of economic liberation and educational parity at all levels.

The protection, development, advancement and empowerment of the S.Cs
and S.Ts is synonymous with the advancement and progress of the
nation. Dalit and human rights organisations and their enlightened
friends should take up this task with this vision and sense of
national destiny.

It must be understood by the advanced castes and classes of society
who occupy the commanding heights of the state and of all its
institutions and also the economy and private institutions and the
media, that casualness or indifference or hostility on their part to
this goal of ensuring the protection, development, advancement and
empowerment of S.Cs and S.Ts will be injurious to their own
self-interest, not to speak of the national interest, which would
profit from optimal development of the nation in economic as well as
social parameters. Their own progress will be hampered by the dead
weight of the past. If they look at this issue rationally and from the
point of view of their own enlightened self-interest, they should
wholeheartedly join this epic effort and historical movement.

P.S. Krishnan is former Secretary, Government of India. He is at
present the Chief Adviser, National Coalition for Strengthening the
POA Act and its Implementation; Chairman, People's Commission against
Atrocities on Dalits; Chief Patron, National Action Forum for Social
Justice; Chief Adviser, National Dalit Election Watch; and has been
working for social justice for more than 50 years.

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