I come from a privileged background from the capital city of Bengal. I am privileged because I haven’t had the opportunity to confront any sort of discrimination – be it on the basis of gender, caste or class. I do not subscribe to any particular ideology but I certainly believe in good living.
The SC passed a very controversial judgement on the March 20, 2018, that there could be no immediate arrest upon a complaint lodged by a member of a Schedule Caste or a Schedule Tribe as per the SC/ST Atrocities Act. What certainly struck me about the whole matter was that somehow, somewhere, it made sense. Why?
First, it’s important to recall as to what led to the formulation of the act in the first place. India is a caste-ridden society – and however much we educate ourselves, the obliteration of caste-based identities is impossible to imagine. The main issue at stake is the historically-attached notion (and reality) of privilege and the sense of oppression that comes hand-in-hand with this. The act was henceforth an attempt to redress the very grievances that the oppressed sections of the society (such as the Dalits) have borne for ages.
However, I would like to make a point here. There have been many instances where the caste certificate of people from SC/ST communities haven’t rightly represented an oppressed person. The caste certificate has been variously used by a section whose earnings and standard of living betray the very purpose of reservation. My intention is not to deny but rather to put a glaring light on the fact that villages of Dalits in Tamil Nadu or Madhya Pradesh are being torched at the behest of the upper castes. The Dalits could not protest and make their cries heard by virtue of their caste status. Quota systems are there to pull up these helpless people. At the same time, the son or daughter of an IAS officer goes on to claim reservation benefits in spite of being well-off.
In this context, when a highly-esteemed constitutional entity of a state goes on to state that this act had to be modified for the sake of saving innocents who might not belong to the oppressed sections, this logic rings true. It is disheartening to note that two years since the act has been brought into action, atrocities against the Dalits have rather gone up. Systemic failure is the only cause that can be cited in this case. In more than one case, even minorities like women and children had been deprived of justice from the roots (courtesy of a prejudiced police system) irrespective of the class they may have belonged to. Hence the question arises – is a law enough to address the dark issues of society, or is it of utmost importance to also look into the proper enforcement of this law?
When the question of misuse arises, a latent belief that comes into play is that it might not always be an oppressed and hapless person who will come to seek justice with the law at their side. It could also be an empowered person misusing the caste certificate and hence wrongly claiming SC/ST benefits. Good laws are made with good intentions, but human minds are capable of manipulating these very intentions. A person belonging to the SC or ST category is just as human as a person from the general category. Hence, I see no issue in halting an immediate arrest upon a complaint from a person from an SC/ST community. But at the same time, the administration has to make sure that any investigation pertaining to the complaint has to be undertaken as early as possible, maybe through fast track courts (if permissible) – and that justice to the afflicted is ensured.