In a rare show of unanimity within the political class, eight days ago, on December 22, 2015, the Rajya Sabha (Upper house of the Indian Parliament), passed, through a unanimous voice vote, the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2015. Communalism Combat has been consistently tracking the absence of political will in pursuing caste-driven crimes.
In March 2005, we analysed this special law enacted in 1989 for the most underprivileged sections and through detailed state-wise reports showed how it had in fact failed to protect India’s Dalits and Adivasis from specifically directed crimes. (https://sabrangindia.in/sabrangthemes/caste-crimes-2005)
Ten years after that date and analysis, following dynamic mobilisation of citizens civil rights groups from the Dalit and Adivasi sections, and others, the Indian Parliament has finally passed an Amendment Bill that acknowledges the loopholes. PS Krishnan, one of the key figures in the movement to remove the loopholes in the existing law (Prevention of Atrocities [POA], 1989), analyses for us the key improvements in the proposed law that now only awaits the formal assent from the President of India.
An Easy- to-Read Analysis that enables a quick grasp of the recent Amendments:
I.An Expansion in the Definition of the list of Atrocities to bring in certain crimes which have been taking place but were omitted in the original POA Act
|Original Act||Amended Bill|
|Number of offences / crimes listed as offences of Atrocities
In Section 3(1) =1 5
In Section 3(2) = 7
In Section 3(1) = 29
In Section 3(2) = 8
I A. Some of the major offences thus added to the list of Atrocities in the newly Amended Law
|(1)||Social and economic boycott||This crime is widespread. Dr. Ambedkar had pointed this out and presented the crippling terror generated through this to the Simon Commission in 1927.
This was omitted in the original Act of 1989 despite serious efforts at that time, in meetings and in writing, to get this included.
|(2)||Greater protection for SC and ST women
(a) Dedicating women as Devadasi or similar practice(s)
(b) Certain offences of sexual nature against women
(c) Crimes relating to allegations of being declared ‘witches’
|(a)Gives additional protection to SC and ST women
(b) This is much stronger and more specific than in the original Act
(c)Most of the victims of these atrocities are ST women and also SC women.
(a) election-related coercion – in voting as well as candidate nomination/self-nomination
(b) obstruction of elected member or chair of local bodies from performing duties and functions
(c) post-poll attacks including social or economic boycott
|Relevant to instances like Melavalavu in Tamil Nadu,
where the elected SC Panchayat President and those accompanying him were pulled out of a bus and killed in public in broad daylight.
|(4)||Making an SC or ST member perform acts of manual scavenging or the employment or permission to employ any such person (SC or ST) for this purpose (of manual scavenging)||This buttresses the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, the one legislation directly for SC and ST enacted by the UPA Government during its 10-year rule.|
|(5)||Any Compulsion to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses or dig graves
|(6)||Promotion of enmity
Insult to any object, statue, photograph, portrait etc. held sacred or in high esteem or late persons held in high esteem (by SCs and STs)
|Targets widespread practice of insult, particularly to statues of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.|
|(7)||Prevention of equal use of common resources like burial or cremation ground, water resources, public convenience, road passage, riding bicycles, motorcycles , mounting horse in wedding processions, wearing footwear or new clothes, equal access to places of worship, equal access to educational and health institutions, shops etc, interfering with freedom of profession, occupation in trade, business, employment etc.||Wedding horse-riding offences common in North India, e.g., Kumher (Rajasthan) 1992, Kaphalta (UP, now Uttarakhand) 1980 and many recent instances.
This is more comprehensive and specific than 3(1) (14) in original Act
|(8)||Punishment for major IPC offences, i.e., crimes with 10 years or more of imprisonment, not specifically listed.
The Bill substitutes “on the ground of victim being SC or ST” with “knowing that victim is an SC or ST”
“6. New Presumption Clause”
|Punishment for IPC offences listed in the Schedule to the Bill
|Greater Protection for STs
(a) Denial of forests rights
(b) Destruction of crops
|Relevant to cases like Vachati, Adivasi village in Tamil Nadu in 1992, where all the fields, crops and wells were destroyed and damaged, women and girls were raped by Forest, Police and Revenue personnel.|