Thursday, 28 July 2011

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was enacted by the Parliament of India, in order to prevent atrocities against Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The purpose of the Act was to help the social inclusion of Dalits into Indian society, but the Act has failed to live up to its expectations.

Special Court

Special Court Justice Ramaswamy observed in the case of State of Karnataka v. Ingale  that more than seventy-five percent of the cases brought under the SC/ST Act end in acquittal at all levels. The situation has not improved much since 1992 according to the figures given by the 2002 Annual Report dealing with SC/ST Act (of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment) Of the total cases filed in 2002 only 21.72% were disposed of, and, of those, a mere 2.31% ended in conviction. The number of acquittals is 6 times more than the number of convictions and more than 70 percent of the cases are still pending.


Going through the normal judicial system is self degrading for any dalit. This is because of the still existing biases of the court judges. One example is the conduct of an Allahabad High Court judge who had his chambers "purified" with water from the 'ganga jal' because a dalit judge had previously sat in that chamber before him. Another example is the case of State of Karnataka v. Ingale. The State of Karnataka had charged five individuals with violating the SC/ST Act. At trial, four witnesses testified that the defendants had threatened dalits with a gun in order to stop them from taking water from a well. The defendants told the dalits that they had no right to take water, because they were untouchables. The trial judge convicted all of the defendants. On appeal, the Additional Sessions judge confirmed the conviction of three defendants but acquitted two. On further appeal to the High Court, the judge acquitted all the defendants after rejecting the testimony of the four dalit witnesses. The dalits finally got relief from the Supreme Court.


Section 23 of the Prevention of Atrocities Act authorises the Central Government to frame rules for carrying out the purpose of the Act. It was the drawing power from this section that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules of 1995 were framed. According to Rule 7(1) investigation of an offence committed under the SC/ST Act cannot be investigated by an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP). Various High Courts have vitiated the trail based on the above rule and have improperly set aside the order of conviction.

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