SC/ST Act: Dalits view Apex Court verdict as ‘extension of govt policy’
The nation has ensured elected representation of Dalits and Tribals at every level of democracy, yet the communities continue to face denigration and oppression following atrocities heaped on them for centuries by a social system. Dalits and Tribals are absent in the higher judiciary, which enjoys the authority to override and even protect legislative actions.
Monday’s protest was due to the perception that the March 20 judgement of the Supreme Court emasculated the protection given in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. In recent memory, this was the largest violent and massive outcry of the oppressed against a court verdict. But the massive agitation contained more than just anger and frustration.
The protests were primarily from Ambedkarite organisations in the Hindi belt. The response in north Indian is easier to analyse. Jatavs dominate the Dalit social landscape and the BJP has targeted this caste group politically by trying to pull in smaller Dalit castes and pitting them against Jatavs. The community perceives that if the BJP gets an opportunity it would deny tickets to Jatavs the way it isolated Muslims by denying them tickets in the UP assembly elections.
Also the rampaging gaurakshaks in northern India were a threat not only to Muslims engaged in animal trade economy but to Jatavs too. Punjab which has up to 44% Dalit population in regions such as Doaba saw a total bandh on Monday. The ‘dilution’ of the Atrocities Act and slow government response spread through social media, with protests in several towns and villages. The Act affects every Dalit caste and they all joined in solidarity.
The protests in southern states, which have Scheduled Caste sub-plan and Tribal sub-plan legislation that guarantee 22.5% of budgetary funds for the communities was non-violent in contrast. The governments of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka (all non-BJP) have been implementing the budget law in earnest. The BJP at the Centre is yet to bring in such a law. The cruelty with which upper castes treat Dalits is higher in the north than in the south.
In Tamil Nadu, more cases are reported now due to elopement of non-Dalit women with Dalit men. Unlike these states, Gujarat, which has seen the longest BJP rule, had the Una incident, which created a huge movement as Jignesh Mewani and Martin Macwan marched across Gujarat with youth and children holding blue flags. The last flashpoint in Gujarat has been the murder of a Dalit youth for owning and riding a horse.
It is common knowledge that it is very difficult for a Dalit or a tribal victim to seek police action immediately. After running around, the victim is forced by social oppressors to go for a compromise after a case is registered. While the police makes out a weak case and dilutes the trial, the victim is continuously attacked, battered or pressured to turn hostile
Every Dalit and tribal knows the judicial pronouncement will create a system that perfectly allies with the delay and oppression of victims. In the perception of Dalits, the verdict is extension of policies of the current BJP government.
The Economic Times, New Delhi, 12th April 2018