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Prevention Of Atrocities Act: Why A Law Is Not Enough

22/12/2015 8:54 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 7:49 PM IST
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks by a photograph of Bhim Rao Ambedkar during the unveiling ceremony of the foundation stone for an international center dedicated to Ambedkar, in New Delhi, India, Monday, April 20, 2015. Ambedkar, an untouchable, or Dalit, and a prominent Indian freedom fighter, was the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, which outlawed discrimination based on caste.(AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

"...Because I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot." - Dr B R Ambedkar at the Constituent Assembly on 25 Nov 1949

Laws are just words which, without a change in the mindset of society, cannot be implemented effectively. The people at the helm of affairs of the nation have to set the moral compass so that it is aligned to the founding principles of the nation, rather than to their personal beliefs.

The advent of the RSS-backed BJP Government led by Shri Narendra Modi in May 2014 has seen a 19% increase in the number of atrocities against Dalits across the country, in stark contrast to the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity on which this nation is based. This trend can end up derailing the vision of our founding fathers - a vision of an India that is democratic not only politically but also socially and economically.

Very few of these atrocities against Dalits have shaken the conscience of the nation at large.

In April this year, poison was mixed in a drinking water tank in Kotputli Tehsil near Jaipur to teach Dalits a lesson. The trigger? A Dalit groom had the audacity to sit on horseback during the baraat.

The advent of the RSS-backed BJP Government led by Shri Narendra Modi in May 2014 has seen a 19% increase in the number of atrocities against Dalits

On 21 October, a nine-month-old girl and her two-year-old brother were burnt alive when their house in Faridabad, Haryana, was set on fire by members of a higher caste community. VK Singh, a former army chief and a minister in the Modi government, responded to the resulting outcry by saying that the Centre could not be blamed if somebody threw stones at a dog. This appalling analogy seems to be inspired by Narendra Modi's infamous comparison of Gujarat riot victims to puppies that were run over by mistake.

Between 19 and 24 October, several hundred security personnel belonging to CoBRA, CRPF and DRG went on a combing operation to five villages (Pegdapalli, Chinnagellur, Peddagellur, Gundam and Budgecheru) in Naxal-hit Chhattisgarh. There the security forces indulged in widespread sexual violence, looting, ransacking of homes, etc. There are at least three documented cases of gangrape and numerous instances of stripping the tribal women, beating them and groping them. This has been well documented by a Congress party investigative team led by its MLA Kawasi Lakhma.

The above incidents highlight the intensity of the atrocities that have been committed not only by citizens but by the State machinery as well. Social commentators can give various reasons for the increase in the number of such cases - pushback from the dominant castes to the increasing assertiveness of their constitutional rights by the Dalits and tribals or a greater willingness of the police administration to file such cases -- but such reasoning provides no relief and solace to the victims of such caste brutality.

And of course, these three examples merely skim the surface of the range of injustices that Dalits have to face on a daily basis - ranging from restrictions on where they can work and whom they can marry to rape and murder. How these atrocities are experienced can never be captured on paper and in numbers. One needs to be born as a Dalit or an Adivasi to truly understand the discrimination that they face at every step in society. It is hard for the upper castes to be even aware of the stranglehold that Manu has over their minds and actions. In fact, Manu pervades the minds of most Indians - an Indian is usually an expert at identifying the hierarchical organisation of a social structure and adapts his or her behaviour accordingly. It operates subconsciously in all of us, just like a virus lurking quietly in electronic devices.

Unless we drag this subconscious domination of Manu out into the open to challenge it, the laws are not going to be effective.

Unless we drag this subconscious domination of Manu out into the open to challenge it, the laws that are being framed to tackle atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and Tribes are not going to be effective.

Although the Rajya Sabha on 21 December passed the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014, it is worth questioning if the lawmakers understand that the law will only be effective if there are deep-rooted changes in society. It is the responsibility of the leaders of the country to ensure that society understands the benefits of relinquishing a regressive mindset in favour of the progressive ideals enshrined in the Constitution. Society takes its cues from the leaders and calibrates its behaviour accordingly.

For the atrocities against the SC/STs to reduce, not only is there a need for robust laws but also their proper and effective implementation and monitoring. The law provides for state- and district-level Vigilance and Monitoring Committees. These committees are supposed to review the implementation of the Act across the state and districts; the Chief Minister of a state is the chairperson for the state Vigilance and Monitoring Committee.

The sincerity of the administrative and political leadership on such serious issues of human rights violations, of course, remains to be seen. Will they deal with the cases honestly or sweep them under the carpet as seen most of the time, irrespective of the party in power?

The stronger and more rigorous the monitoring bodies at the district and state levels are, the more effective the country's leadership be in setting the moral compass of the nation in the right direction and helping society to confine atrocities against the Dalits and the Adivasis to the past forever.

For India to become the next economic powerhouse, it cannot continue to deny a life of dignity too more than 300 million of its population. It cannot achieve its full potential by allowing certain dominant sections of the society to trample upon the fundamental rights of these 300 million without any remorse or fear of the law. For India to progress and not lose its freedom, it has to let go of its regressive prejudices. For that to happen, every Indian has to become aware of the Manu that lurks unconsciously in our minds and make a conscious attempt to purge this ancient and cruel belief system once in for all.

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