A bloody history
A minor Dalit girl was beaten up because her shadow fell on an upper caste man in Madhya Pradesh in June 2015– a result of the savage legacy of untouchability that 67 years of Independence has not managed to wipe out.
A dalit groom was attacked merely because he rode a horse in the wedding procession, also in Madhya Pradesh, in May 2015. Upper caste men urinated in a Dalit youth’s mouth in Tamil Nadu a few months earlier. Dalits were crushed under tractors in a land dispute in Rajasthan. This is the brutal truth of caste violence our country faces every day. Numerous incidents like these show that untouchability and caste violence are still rampant in many parts of India.
Despite such repeated outrageous attacks on the Dalit community, Prevention of Atrocities Amendment Bill has not yet been passed. In most cases, the accused are not even booked under Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. The bill intends to strengthen the original law which serves to prevent crimes against people from SC/ST background, provide special courts for such crimes, and rehabilitate the victims.
Attempts to amend
To ensure prompt police action and close all loopholes in the 1989 law, an amendment bill was introduced by the UPA-2 government in December 2013. The bill was not passed but was issued as an ordinance in March, 2014. But the NDA government sent the bill to the Standing Committee and has not brought it up for a year. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in a letter to the Prime Minister, blamed the Modi government for “allowing the ordinance to lapse” by sending it to Standing Committee.
The government is now trying hard to pass the Bill in the monsoon session of parliament. The bill provides more stringent laws by listing crimes extensively, and in detail. According to this bill, the caste motive will be presumed and the accused would be considered guilty, until he can prove otherwise. It also intends to ensure stronger provisions against “touching a Dalit or tribal woman in a sexual manner without consent” and “acts or gestures of sexual nature” against them to prevent sexual exploitation of SC/ST women by upper caste men. The POA bill also contains the provision for exclusive courts to dispose of cases quickly.
An ulterior motive?
While some sections in the Congress allege that the NDA government is delaying the bill due to RSS opposition, it is speculated that the upcoming polls in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is the real reason behind the government’s new stand. According to 2001 census, the SC and ST constitute respectively 15.7% and 0.9% of the population of Bihar. If the government can pass the bill before the Bihar election, this considerable caste minorities population would help BJP bag the majority of 243 assembly seats in the state. Armed with a Bihar victory and the new POA Act, the BJP might hope to win the later UP polls.
The RSS claims that the new law would be misused against upper caste people to exact vengeance, but this argument doesn’t really hold. Any law can be misused, but that is no excuse for not strengthening a much-needed law which helps prevent human rights violation.
However, bringing the bill to the monsoon session indeed raises the question whether this is merely another vote bank policy to ingratiate the SC/ST voters in Bihar and UP. The Congress government issued the POA ordinance on 4 March, 2014, only a day before the announcement of general election. It is no surprise that the BJP government would seek to pass the bill right before the Bihar and UP elections. Nevertheless, the government must keep in mind that laws are not merely a ploy to win elections, but are meant to be implemented for the betterment of the nation.