New Delhi- In a nation as diverse as India, the promise of justice and equal rights for all citizens is enshrined in countless laws and regulations. However, as the pages of legislation grow, so do the gaps in their implementation. On October 14th, a momentous event unfolded at the Constitution Club of India, ushering in a new era of citizen-driven change. For the first time, individuals hailing from different regions and backgrounds converged to conduct a critical audit of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, for the year 2021, setting the stage for a transformative shift in the pursuit of justice.
The Citizen’s Vigilance and Monitoring Committee (CVMC) took a groundbreaking step by producing the First National Civil Society report under Section 21(4), focusing on the implementation of the act. The official release event was held at the Constitution Club, on Saturday.
The event commenced with an engaging presentation to inaugurate the report, which later evolved into an insightful roundtable discussion. This roundtable was meticulously organized to explore potential solutions that could address the implementation gaps identified in the report. To foster an environment where each participant could freely share their insights, the discussion adhered to the Chatham House Rule. This rule allowed all attendees to utilize information from the discussion without revealing the specific source of any given comment.
What made this gathering truly remarkable was its inclusivity. People from every corner of the country, regardless of their caste, class, or gender, found a welcoming space at the table, collectively contributing to this momentous effort for positive change.
The document paints a grim picture of reality. According to it, recorded crimes against Dalits between 1992 and 2021 have been on the rise, with 2021 marking the year with the highest number of crimes, totalling fifty-nine thousand. Crimes against Adivasis have remained relatively steady over the past two decades, with 2021 recording eight thousand eight hundred and two cases. However, this stability is primarily due to the low rate of criminal charges filed in support of the tribal communities.
In total, there have been One million, two hundred six thousand, two hundred and sixty (1,206,260) recorded crimes against the scheduled communities between 1992 and 2021. In 2021, there were also over 5,000 recorded cases of inter-community rapes of Scheduled Community women in a single year, marking the first time this has occurred, and the third consecutive year in which over a thousand individuals from the scheduled communities were murdered in inter-community crimes.
The Mooknayak is set to publish a series delving into the comprehensive insights and revealing statistics from the report.
The report draws its foundation from data meticulously collected from government sources, and any information gaps were diligently addressed through the utilization of the Right to Information Act. In the foreword of the report, Justice Madan B. Lokur, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India, provides a compelling perspective. He underscores the report's comprehensive coverage of all facets of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Justice Lokur's sobering observation echoes throughout his foreword, emphasizing that the law is, in practice, far from being fully implemented in either letter or spirit. A stark example of this is the infrequent meetings of state-level vigilance and monitoring committees, with a national average of barely 12%.
The report further highlights the "deficiency in the investigation and trial of offenses not only in terms of procedures but also in terms of substantive relief that victims and witnesses are entitled to under the law. This important document highlights how compensation that is disbursed is minimal, if at all. Cases of atrocities against SCs and STs take years to be resolved, and many such cases have been pending for decades. It is further discussed that apart from numbers, it becomes very important for us to look into the psychological and emotional aspects of the crimes. Money cannot be the only rehabilitation. Counselling and holistic development become more important, at times.
The roundtable discussion culminated in a holistic approach to defining practical measures for the next steps. A particularly passionate participant articulated her conviction that the focus should extend beyond the confines of the room, emphasizing the imperative of reaching a wider audience.
She firmly stated, "Whether we like it or not, the only way to do this is through media, regardless of its control or corruption. With the backdrop of the Caste Census, we can present the report more compellingly. Given the presence of numerous organizations here, organizing press conferences to disseminate our findings would be immensely beneficial. Furthermore, if we can establish a clear timeline before the winter session and ensure that every parliament member has access to this report, it could become a prominent topic of discussion."
Another participant highlighted the vital importance of grassroots advocacy to ensure that the report's findings reach the very heart of communities, increasing awareness among the general population. Bondita, a dedicated human rights activist, stood out as one of the few attendees from the northeastern region of the nation. Drawing on her firsthand experiences, she presented a compelling case, citing the example of violence in Manipur.
Bondita shared a poignant story where the local police failed to invoke the SC/ST Atrocities Act when registering a case involving three Kuki-zo women. During the ensuing legal proceedings, their lawyer highlighted that even the non-invocation of the act constituted an offense, shedding light on the widespread lack of awareness. She further recounted a distressing incident where a tribal woman, known to her, had been molested by an upper-caste security personnel. When attempting to file an FIR under the act, they were denied due to the presence of the Armed Forces (Special Powers Act) in the region. This complex legal environment created significant obstacles for tribal women in seeking justice. In the face of such challenges, Bondita urged the roundtable to collectively explore innovative strategies to navigate such intricate situations and ensure that justice is accessible to all, regardless of their regional circumstances.
The activist also works closely with tea plantation workers. Discussing a situation that had happened some time back, she said, "In Assam, very few cases are registered under this act. There is a huge population of tribal women working in tea plantations who are recognized as tribals elsewhere, but in Assam, they are categorized under Other Backward Classes (OBC). So, whenever they face violence, we are never able to file their complaints under the act."
A member from Andhra Pradesh highlighted the fact that there is no sub-caste reservation in our system. There are certain communities who enjoy a greater representation in the political system since sub-caste is not taken into account.
One very enthusiastic panel member suggested that the final report should not be updated simply. A proper investigation should be carried out if someone from a marginalized community is taking back the case they had filed.
A lawyer and freelance journalist based in Goa remarked that the people in forces and judiciary come with a lot of prejudices, so a special focus on sensitization is needed. She went on to highlight the fact that nomadic tribes do not enjoy Scheduled Tribe status in India. For many years, the Vannarmare tribe of Goa was not officially recognized. Due to this, the state reported very low cases filed under the atrocities act. She then went on to question the sample size, as for a smaller state such as Goa, even a minuscule number of cases are huge, considering the ratio of the cases to the population.
Understanding the role local Non-Governmental Organizations play in mobilization, many had suggested that the government should provide funds to them. But it was later discussed that this might pit one NGO against another and will force them into some sort of competition. Furthermore, it might also lead to dependency and dilution of their ideologies.
One particular suggestion that echoed through the whole roundtable discussion was the need to mobilize a 'political class.' A 'Dalit Manifesto' can be prepared to be sent to all the major political parties before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections so that everyone knows the demands of the structurally excluded communities.
Contents of the Report: The report has taken into account various aspects of atrocities. These include the recorded atrocities, the statuses of the various charge sheets prepared, the status of pendency in courts, rehabilitation work, and many more.
Apart from these, the document also includes the performance of monitoring systems that are put in place and if other states have any similar mechanisms.
Filled with tables, figures, and a glossary of important terms, the report is user-friendly, making it easier for everyone to access it.