No justice for SC/ST victims of atrocity

The Karnataka government’s dismal performance in securing convictions of those charged under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is a damning indictment of the failure of state functionaries to ensure justice to victims of caste violence. According to a report that examined implementation of the PoA Act, of the 1,633 cases booked under this legislation in Karnataka in 2014, not even one case ended in conviction; in 273 cases, the accused were acquitted and in 384 cases, B-reports were filed and police dropped the case on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

The State’s zero conviction rate under the PoA Act is reason for serious concern. It indicates that perpetrators of atrocities against SCs and STs are getting away without having to face punishment. The  Constitution prohibits the practice of untouchability in all its forms. In 1955, the Protection of Civil Rights Act was enacted to protect the fundamental and socio-economic, political, and cultural rights of SCs and STs. Still, violence and humiliation continued to be heaped on them. It was in this context that the government enacted the stringent PoA Act in 1989. Under it, the violence perpetrated by non-SC/STs against SC/STs is not just a crime, it is an atrocity. It provides for special courts to ensure speedy trial and stringent punishment to those convicted in the hope that it would deter such atrocities in future. However, the enactment of the PoA has not prevented atrocities against SC/STs; instead, they have only increased in frequency and ferocity.

The PoA is not being imple-mented. Often, the police connive with perpetrators to destroy evidence and intimidate the victims into withdrawing the case. SC/ST activists point out that police are often unwilling to file a case under the PoA Act and instead pressure SC/ST victims to file a case under the more lenient Indian Penal Code, which among other things allows bail to the accused. Out on bail, the accused often file ‘counter cases’ against SC/STs so that a ‘compromise’ settlement can be reached.

Karnataka has the dubious distinction of standing third in the country in terms of the number of atrocity cases registered in 2014. It tops the county with regard to the rate of atrocities which is the number of atrocity cases per 100,000 population of SC/ST in the state. It can change this by diligently implementing the PoA Act. Civil society must strengthen the hands of SC/ST organisations in their fight for justice.

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