Dalit bodies set Aug 15 deadline to shelter SC/ST Act from judicial review

Dalit organisations on Thursday set the government August 15 deadline to protect the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act from judicial review by including the law in Schedule 9 of the Constitution.

A law placed under Schedule 9 is not open for judicial review.

If the government does not make any move in the Monsoon Session of Parliament or bring an ordinance to restore status quo of the Act, recently diluted by a Supreme Court order, various Dalit organisations said they will hit the streets and warned the NDA government not to incur their wrath.

The decision came at a meeting chaired by Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar and attended by, among others, Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch's P Srinivasa Rao, National Confederation of Dalit and Adivasi Organisations chief Ashok Bharti, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights representative V A Rameshnathan and Dalit Rights Forum's Anand Rao.

Dalits upped the ante after the BJP-led NDA government failed to initially respond to a Supreme Court order, which they said diluted the Act. Several Dalit MPs in BJP also raised objections to the SC order, while a Bharat Bandh called by various Dalit organisations saw a counter a week later when upper caste organisations called anti-quota protest.

"The government should issue an ordinance to restore the status quo of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and include the Act in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution," Rao said.

Bharti said, "We have given the government time till August 15, the Independence Day. It is the day when the Prime Minister addresses the nation from the Red Fort. The government has time till then."

Even as the ruling BJP is seeking to reach out to Dalits and other deprived sections over the next fortnight, the Dalit organisations have decided to observe Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14 as "Protect Constitution Day" across the country and demand the release of Dalit protesters falsely implicated in cases.

Dalits in judiciary

The organisations will also raise the pitch on bringing a legislation to ensure adequate representation of Dalits and adivasis in the judiciary. Bharti said, "If the judiciary is not reforming itself, then the government should step in."

Referring to the killing of at least nine Dalits on April 2, the Dalit leaders claimed that thousands of their community members are facing cases while they were the real victims. "Private armies were firing at Dalits in Morena in Madhya Pradesh. State governments have given shelter to those indulging in violence and targeted Dalit protesters. There is a fear psychosis among Dalits," Rao said.

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