This year the dalit advocacy groups are celebrating the 20th year of SC, ST (prevention of atrocities) act. In implementing the universal human rights and the rights and protections guaranteed by the constitution, SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 is a milestone. That act itself came in the backdrop of inhuman incidents such as Kilvenmani, Tchuduru, Karamchedu which shocked the nation in late 80s and early 90s.
Indian constitution, under article 17, prohibits untouchability where as article 15 prohibits any kind of discrimination on the grounds of caste. In pursuance of this constitutional mandate central government adopted protection of civil rights act way back in 1955. The philosophy behind the inclusion of these articles under Fundamental Rights part implies the recognition of state’s dual role, protector as well as facilitator when it comes to depressed classes. The PCR act applies to all under- privileged classes, its main focus is the protection of rights guaranteed to SC and STs. 1955 act recognizes the violation of rights against SCs and STs as crimes to which the policy makers outlined remedial measures as well as protective measures under law of the land. Four decades of its implementation supported by the governmental efforts generated awareness about civil rights of depressed classes. At the same time violation of SC, ST rights kept going on. The social and democratic awareness fueled by anti emergency struggle in the country widened the ambit of civil rights. Followed by the increased activism of dalit advocacy groups, apparently those who headed such groups are the first generation beneficiaries of opportunities under reservation policy, succeeded in differentiating between civil rights and atrocities.
The dalit movements of late 70s and early 80s centered around self respect apart from graded equality. Self respect movements fueled by inhuman atrocities such as mentioned above paved way for new debate about protecting the dalit rights at the same time protecting the dalits from atrocities unleashed against them. Thus the necessity for a new act came up and parliament at that time acted promptly to recognizing this need, thus came in to existence the prevention of SC, ST atrocities which empowers the State to use its powers to see that the perpetrators of atrocities not to go unpunished. The conflicts debated at that time and redressal or remedial mechanisms outlined in those acts are basically individual centric.
Despite these guarantees and protections, the 21st century India is witnessing an increase in atrocities against SCs and STs. The table given below reflects this increase. The major change that needs to be recognized in these atrocities is that they migrated from individual sphere to social sphere. In other sense atrocities against group are increased as against individuals. Particularly this change is evident in the case of developed states such as Maharashtra, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh as well as the states where predominantly feudalistic social relations are in tact. The data covering the major states, compiled from national crime bureau records as well as annual reports of National SC, and ST commissions, Human Rights Commission confirms the same. The data for the year 2001 is complied from National Commission for Scheduled Castes which figures are contestable because of its abrupt reduction of incidence of crime against SC/STs in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan.
With the globalization and economic reforms there is a sea change in the debate on dalit rights. Globalisation facilitated the marginalization of dalits and adivasis from socio, economic and cultural fields at the same time consolidating the opportunities in the hands of privileged. This is the time when the state retreated from its duty to managing the social needs, thus opening the earlier restricted field for open competition which resulted opening of new areas of conflict. As mentioned earlier, in this period escalation of atrocities against the dalits and adivasis from individual centric to group centric gained momentum. As this is far beyond the limits of modern jurisprudence which is basically individual centric, the establishment also refusing to register the cases of group violence in nature thus leaving the field open for direct confrontation at some times. This is resulting in conflict of interest for limited opportunities which in turn expressed in terms of caste based conflicts due to the absence of democratic ways of mobilization, and proper grievance redressal mechanisms.
Thus under globalization caste conflicts and atrocities against SC and STs are migrated from individual ethical space to social and economic space. That is the reason for enormous increase of incidence of crime against SC/STs over this period. This is confirmed by National Crimes Bureau records. According to National Crime Bureau Records, as The Hindu reported on July 20th, 2004, Statistics available with the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Commissions indicate that Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu recorded high incidence of atrocities against SC/ST between 1996-2000. In UP, where dalit population is at nearly 21 percent, 17 cases were registered per each lakh of SC population, where as this ratio peaks for Madhya Pradesh with 45 cases for lakh population. In Bengal where SC population stood at 23 % as per 2001 Census, this ratio stands at 0.01 cases / lakh population. In Andhra Pradesh where 16 % population consists 26 cases were registered per each lakh of SCs. Apart from that the analysis of data on incidence of crime against SC/STs reveals fundamental character. The stubborn persistence of deprivations, poverty in its different manifestations, marginalization, in access to resources, both traditional and newly available, denial of benefits of development are producing the conditions for continuous escalation of conflicts across the country. Prevention of atrocities act mainly concentrates on redressal mechanisms. But if we look at the data provided by National Bureau of Crime Records, the progress is not satisfactory. As on 2007, December, 104006 cases are in courts out of which in 6505 cases convictions announced, and 14217 cases culprits were acquitted. Rest of 82472 are still pending before the courts. This performance is after the majority of states established special courts to deal with offences under PCR and POA acts.
Globalisation opened up new opportunities for the upper caste cluster. The same upper caste clusters are having the inward linkages available under the existing state structure. The changed scenario helped them to sustain their hegemony over the economy as well as over the social life in rural India with the coupling of upward linkages made available to them under globalization with already existing inward linkages within the state systems. With the State retreating from the managing of social and public life, in the economic sphere this retreat opened up new opportunities for the private capital where in social sphere opened up new opportunities for non governmental agencies to intrude in to social life. Thus we can now see that the nature of NGOs activities are wide spread across the sectors from helping the disable to microfinance institutions.
On the other hand, this retreat of state also opened up new opportunities for caste forces which are striving for restoring the old identity and group based loyalties instead of striving for democratic grievance redressal means thus consolidating the politics of identity. This identity politics in turn reinforcing the divisions and sub divisions from the existing underprivileged caste clusters there by weakening their bargaining power in its encounter with the State as well as civic life. This in turn, further dividing the socially and economically weaker sections and STs, SC by juxtaposing the interests of these sections, at a time when there is a need to develop solidarity cutting across the castes to protect the underprivileged. This underscores the need for developing sustained movements based on building sustainable movements by developing strong solidarity among the under privileged castes. In this back ground the governments has to factor in the changed scenario in social life over the last two decades while formulating the policies including multidimensional programs to address the structural roots of violence. To be precise, in case of protecting civil rights of underprivileged and prevention of atrocities against them needs a reconsideration in the backdrop of experiences of implementation of prevention of atrocities act over the last two decades. Movements coercing the state to discharge its duties in true constitutional spirit needs to be built up. And such movements shall be in a position to address and accommodate the multidimensional aspirations of the constituent participants.