Changes in SC/ST bill timely

"Any economic, social boycott of SCs/STs is an offence now."

That otherwise squabbling political parties got together to pass the SC/ST (Prevention of
Atrocities) Amendment Bill last week in the Rajya Sabha shows there are certain issues that go beyond petty differences. There was enough justification as atrocities against scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) have jumped, especially since 2009, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). In 2009, there were 33,594 cases (of atrocities against SCs) and 5,425 cases (of atrocity cases against STs). The concomitant figures for 2014 were 47,064 and 11,451. Clearly, the pre-amended law was not working or else it was not being implemented strictly. 

The amendments, at least on paper, seem to have made the law far more effective as it has plugged loopholes in the existing law. For instance, the amended bill makes it an offence to garland SCs/STs with footwear, forcing these communities to dispose of or carry human and animal carcasses besides barring manual scavenging. Women belonging to the two communities have to be treated with utmost respect and cannot be pushed into the devadasi practice, still prevalent in several parts of the country. What makes the amendments look promising is that any social or economic boycott of SCs/STs is recognised as an offence. Hopefully, this will stall and discourage abhorrent practices among dominant communities that include shunning of SCs/STs if they are seen to be defiant or raise their voices against injustice. The amendments come at a time when, despite the nation’s overall journey into modernity, the SC/ST communities are still treated in the most terrible manner by sizeable sections of people across the country. Boycotting mid-day meals because they were cooked by dalits, stoning a bridegroom because he dared to ride a horse during his wedding, stripping dalits and beating them figure in recent instances of atrocities against SC/ST communities. 

There are some who say that the atrocities law was being misused and that the amendments could propel more of it. While it may be true that misuses occur, overall, there can be no denying that the police and the judiciary must tighten the system to speed up prosecuting the guilty and adjudicating the crime quickly. Ultimately, the law needs to work as a deterrent and for that to happen, the guilty must be made to pay the price, without delay. Else, any amendment will lose its efficacy and remain confined on paper. Now that the amended bill has been passed and will become law shortly, the government must do some brainstorming and find ways of implementing it to the hilt.

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