On 20th March 2018, a Supreme Court Bench of Justice AK Goel and Justice UU Lalit virtually annulled the provisions of The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. This blow to an Act meant to redress grievances of the victims of such atrocities should be seen in the light of rising cases of violence, harassment, rapes, assaults besides casteist harassment, victimization and slurs against the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This ruling by the Supreme Court will only further embolden the sections which perpetrate such atrocities against members of these communities. It should be kept in mind that Dalit women bear the brunt of these atrocities with cases of rapes and assault being high in number. This same bench had earlier struck down immediate arrests in cases lodged by women under Section 498A IPC, and had used the very same argument of ‘misuse’ to support patriarchal violence.
The justice delivery system has already been biased against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as evidenced by extremely slow disposal of cases filed under the Act and very low rate of conviction. Over 90% of the cases filed are still pending while conviction rate in the cases filed is abysmally low (1.4% in case of Scheduled Castes and 0.8% in case of Scheduled Tribes). Now with this SC ruling the very filing of cases will drop further. Even otherwise, given the dominance of upper castes over the police and administration besides society, cases filed only represent a miniscule minority of the incidents of caste violence, abuse and harassment.
Supreme Court has not only made the offences under the Act bailable (against the provisions of the Act) but has made the very filing of FIRs subject to preliminary enquiry which means that most of the complaints will be discarded even before filing of an FIR. Supreme Court has further held that no arrest under the Act can be made without approval by a superior police officer (dist. police chief) and no Govt. servant can be arrested without sanction from the appointing authority. Thus the implementation of the Act has been handed over to the police and administration which are already ranged against them and have been culprits or accomplices and abettors in these atrocities. The Act was already toothless in view of the social reality of caste dominance, now the Supreme Court has rendered it judicially toothless. It should be remembered POA was enacted as the earlier Act proved ineffective.
Going beyond the question before it, the Supreme Court Bench has also passed a number of observations which are based on prejudices against the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Observations like such cases “perpetuate casteism” and promote caste hatred emanate from upper caste chauvinist mindset which demands that the Scheduled Castes should meekly accept the ill-treatment heaped on them and resistance on their part promotes caste hatred. One hears such arguments aplenty from the opponents of reservations. Supreme Court has also waxed eloquent on the question of misuse of the provisions of this Act. The Court has not bothered to see it in the context of high rate of pendency and low rate of conviction under the Act. The Court has also not seen that other penal provisions are misused in a great measure and mostly against members of lower castes and tribals. This banter of “misuse” is misplaced and the remedy ordered does away with the very provisions of the Act. Further this misuse is also engineered by the dominant sections who do so due to their proximity to the police and administration. Rather than seeing the malaise in the Judiciary which distorts implementation of the Act mainly against the very sections for whose protection the Act was enacted, the Supreme Court has legally disarmed the sections who are victims of atrocities.
It is not a coincidence that this judgment has come at a time when the ruling Hindutva forces led by RSS and BJP are unleashing violence against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. It will only embolden these force to augment their attacks against these sections in the service of upper castes particularly landlord sections.
CPI(ML)-New Democracy strongly disapproves of the Supreme Court order and expresses grave concern at the growing attacks and atrocities against Dalits and most backward sections of the society besides tribals and Muslims. We demand that the order be recalled. We also demand that provisions of the POA should be implemented to secure justice to the victims of different types of atrocities heaped on these sections of society. CPI(ML)-New Democracy holds that atrocities against SCs and STs can be eliminated only by intensifying the struggle against the present semi-feudal, semi-colonial system and upper caste chauvinism and by making the new democratic revolution victorious in the country.
CPI(ML)- New Democracy calls upon the people to protest against this Supreme Court judgment and appeals to all to participate in these protests. We call upon all party committees, democratic rights’ organizations and mass organizations, progressive and democratic forces to hold these protests beginning from April 2, 2018.
March 30, 2018