A number of Dalit organisations have hit the streets across the country. Their protests have resulted in chaos and violence. CBSE in Punjab had to postpone exams. Trains have been halted. While one person died during clashes in Morena, two protesters were killed and eighteen others injured in police firing in Gwalior. Another death was reported from Bhind district, reported the Hindustan Times. Internet services were suspended by the district administration in Gwalior, Morena and Bhind in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Incidents of vandalism are being reported from various parts of the country. The Army has been put on stand. by.
Chief Minister #AmarinderSingh has appealed for calm and has requested the Army and paramilitary forces to be on stand-by.
— Daijiworld.com (@daijiworldmgl) April 2, 2018
— Firstpost (@firstpost) April 2, 2018
Bharat Bandh: 4 persons killed as violence breaks out in parts of country over SC/ST Act ruling by top court https://t.co/5EYDP1RImr
— TOI India (@TOIIndiaNews) April 2, 2018
So, what are Dalit organisations protesting against?
They are protesting against a Supreme Court order banning automatic arrest and registration of cases for alleged harassment of SCs and STs under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 (SC/ST Act) fearing misuse of its provisions.
What does the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 (SC/ST Act) say?
There are various provisions in the SC/ST Act that protect members of the marginalised groups from atrocities at their work place or in society at large. There are different degrees of punishments and fines for each of these crimes. In a particular case of alleged discrimination against a member of the SC/ST community that reached the Supreme Court, the accused was a non SC/ST government employee who had rejected a plea of taking action against two senior colleagues of the appelant for entering negative remarks against him in a secret annual report. Thus, the appelant, in turn filed a complaint against the said officer invoking provisions of SC/ST act and get the person in-charge arrested. The contention of the accused was that the investigating officer was a non SC/ST. Further, according to the complainant, the Director of Technical Education was not competent to grant/refuse sanction as the original two accused persons are Class-I officers and only the State Government could grant sanction.
The question the court asked is whether an official using his power to reject such a plea in his official capacity can be prosecuted and whether it would be a fair procedure under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Article 21 states:
Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law
What did the court say to this?
The following pronouncement of the Supreme Court has led to fears that it would dilute the SC/ST Act at a time when artrocities against Dalits are on the rise:
“We direct that in absence of any other independent offence calling for arrest, in respect of offences under the Atrocities Act, no arrest may be effected, if an accused person is a public servant, without written permission of the appointing authority and if such a person is not a public servant, without written permission of the Senior Superintendent of Police of the District. Such permissions must be granted for recorded reasons which must be served on the person to be arrested and to the concerned court. As and when a person arrested is produced before the Magistrate, the Magistrate must apply his mind to the reasons recorded and further detention should be allowed only if the reasons recorded are found to be valid. To avoid false implication, before FIR is registered, preliminary enquiry may be made whether the case falls in the parameters of the Atrocities Act and is not frivolous or motivated”
Source: Live Law
What is the BJP government doing about it?
In his submission before the Court, Additional Solicitor General, who represents the government said this:
In genuine cases anticipatory bail can be granted. He also submitted that the Government of India had issued advisories on 3rd February, 2005, 1st April, 2010 and 23rd May, 2016 and also further amended the Atrocities Act vide Amendment Act No. 1 of 2016 which provides for creation of Special Courts as well as Exclusive Special Courts.
Referring to the data submitted by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) it was further submitted that out of the total number of complaints investigated by the police in the year 2015, both for the persons belonging to the SC category and also belonging to the ST category, in almost 15-16%cases, the competent police authorities had filed closure reports. Out of the cases disposed of by the courts in 2015, more than 75% cases have resulted in acquittal/withdrawal or compounding of the cases.
It was submitted that certain complaints were received alleging misuse of the Atrocities Act and a question was also raised in Parliament as to what punishment should be given against false cases. The reply given was that awarding punishment to members of SCs and STs for false implication would be against the spirit of the Act.
A press statement dated 19th March, 2015 was issued by the Central Government to the effect that in case of false cases, relevant Sections of IPC can be invoked. It was submitted that no guideline should be laid down by this Court which may be legislative in nature.
The BJP government has responded to the protests with alacrity and intend to file a review petition. In its review petition which will be reportedly filed this week, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment might tell the SC order that its order will weaken the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, TOI reported.