Indian criminal justice system has an abysmal record of reporting, investigating and prosecuting cases of atrocities committed against Dalits, especially women, claims a recently released report “A call for justice. Time for change”.
The report, produced by Sisters for Change (SFC), the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) and Dalit Sthree Sakthi (DSS), has highlighted that in cases of crimes against Dalit women there is poor implementation of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and an extremely low conviction rate.
“The report that we released recently is only the tip of the iceberg,” Jesintha Mary, programme coordinator at National Dalit Movement for Justice, told The Sunday Guardian.
The report cites the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2016 data, coupled with in-depth legal case evidences and analysis of hundreds of cases of violence against Dalit women and girls between 2016 and 2018 to support its findings and claims.
According to NCRB, 40,801 atrocities against Dalits were reported in 2016, up from 38,670 in 2015. It also established that most of the crimes against SCs reported were crimes against women, including assault, sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism and outraging of modesty. NCRB data has brought out that Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of atrocities against Dalits, at 25.6% of all the cases reported, followed by Bihar (14%) and Rajasthan (12.6%).
At 25.7%, the PoA Act conviction rate is almost half of those under Indian Penal Code (IPC) that stands at 46.8%.
Mary pointed out, “Only 50% of the cases get reported that too after much pressure from the activist groups. First of all, policemen discourage victims to register cases against the perpetrators, mostly upper caste men, by pressuring or threatening them. And even if they do file cases they chargesheet the accused with much diluted sections of the IPC Act. Predominantly, the PoA Act is avoided to shield the accused.”
Mary alleged: “The police files false counter cases to intimidate the victims.”
Another Dalit rights activist, Asha Kowtal, believes that poor implementation of PoA Act is just a symptom of a greater institutional failure that extends from the executive to the judiciary.
Kowtal said that whenever a Dalit woman faces a crime she goes through double victimisation, first by the perpetrators and then by the criminal justice system.
“Even after a case is registered getting a proper legal aid is again a difficult task. The health officers are also unsupportive and often fudge the reports. Then the amendments of 2016 in SC/ST PoA Act that promised better investigation, prosecution and compensation are not implemented. For instance, victims are entitled to get travel allowance to appear in the court, but they are denied these entitlements,” Kowtal pointed out. Kowtal and Mary have called for dedicated training on the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to ensure that all police and public officials understand the scope of the Act.