03 April 2018
AT a time when cases of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis have increased despite low conviction rates (Latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows reported crimes against SCs increased by 5.5% in 2016 while crimes against STs has increased by 4.7%), the latest Supreme Court order would reverse many of these gains made after amending the Atrocities Act in 2015.

The Supreme Court order will not only delay justice but make victims more vulnerable to threats, which goes against the stated object of The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, which seeks to protect the life and property of vulnerable groups.

Latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows reported crimes against SCs increased by 5.5 per cent in 2016 while crimes against STs has increased by 4.7 per cent. The highest number of cases recorded were against women, including cases of sexual assault and rape.

Merely 25 per cent of the total cases of atrocities against SCs and 20 per cent in case of STs ended in convictions in 2016 — a drop from the already low conviction rate of 27 per cent for both categories in 2015. “A majority of these crimes are serious and not something that can be misused. The high acquittal rate already points to the shoddy investigations in cases of atrocities,” said VA Ramesh Nathan of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. He said that despite the Atrocities Act, those accused in mass killings of Dalits — from the 1997 Laxmanpur Bathe massacre to the Khairlanji massacre — have all been convicted by the Sessions court only to be acquitted by the High Court due to the failure of investigations.

The two-judge bench of Justices UU Lalit and AK Goel have, in their order, aimed at preventing the “misuse of the law”, allowed for anticipatory bail for the accused in certain situations. It also mandated prior sanction to prosecute anyone under the Atrocities Act, and in case of public servants, with the approval of the appointing officer and for others, prior sanction from the Senior Superintendent of Police.

Nitish Nawsagaray, Professor at ILS Law College in Pune who is also part of Dalit Adivasi Adhikar Andolan, said that prior sanctions would further derail a system where arrests are not made even for heinous crimes. “This is disturbing for the Dalit movement. Denial of anticipatory bail in atrocities cases was upheld by Supreme Court in the State Of MP vs Ram Krishna Balothia order of 1995. It was meant to ensure that the perpetrators do not use their political clout to get away.” 
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