Dear Supreme Court, Where Are Your Numbers on the SC/ST Act?
Camera: Abhay Sharma
Editor: Ashish MacCune
“Innocent citizens are termed accused, which is not intended by the legislature. The legislature never intended to use the Atrocities Act as an instrument to blackmail or to wreak personal vengeance.”
The Supreme Court of India, on 20 March 2018, said that the number of false cases
being filed under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act has been rampant and hence the law needed change.
Despite facing a fair bit of criticism, the apex court has so far said it plans to stand by this point of view.
The apex court said that it was not against the SC/ST Act and the "provisions of anticipatory bail have been introduced as unlike other laws, no forum was available for the innocents to seek remedy under the Act".
Violence and clashes ensued on 2 April following a 'Bharat bandh' call given by Dalit organisations protesting the top court's 20 March order. At least 12 people died in the violence.
But What Did the Supreme Court Change in the SC/ST Atrocities Act?
The Supreme Court said that public servants and private citizens who are accused
of committing atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
cannot be arrested automatically.
Public servants can only be arrested with the approval of their appointing authority
while the approval to arrest a private citizen has to come from a Senior Superintendent of Police.
The court also said there was no complete bar against granting anticipatory bail to an accused if prima facie evidence suggested that the case was false.
But, Where Is the Data?
Such a dramatic change to a 29-year-old Act must have some data to back it up, right? But when The Quint looked at data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau over the last three years, the numbers did NOT add up!
In 2014, the number of cases identified as “false” under SC/ST Prevention Atrocities Act after investigation was 6,144 for SCs and 1,265 for STs.
In 2015, this number dropped to 5,866 “false” cases of atrocities against SCs and 1,177 for STs.
In 2016, the numbers dropped further to 5,344 for SC cases, and 912 for STs.
The 89-page-long Supreme Court judgment listed several anecdotes and incidents. But the only crime records data it cited was from 2016. Interestingly, even the cited number of 5,347 “false” cases of atrocities against SCs included three cases under Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.
Now Let's Rewind
The 1989 Act was brought in to eradicate caste discrimination in the country. The Act punished casteist slurs and violence and specifically denied anticipatory bail to the accused. It was amended in 2015, to further add derogatory actions like shaving the head or moustache, or other similar acts which hurt the dignity of Dalits and tribals,
as atrocities committed against them.
With the country's Dalits up in arms over the “injustice”, what is the Supreme Court's message on the principle of social justice in our country? And more importantly, why is the message lacking hard data?