The Constitution of India protects discrimination based on caste and race under Article 15 and abolishes untouchability under Article 17 as an atrocity against SC/ST. It also upholds equality among all the citizens. The parliament of India enacted Scheduled caste and Schedule tribes (prevention of atrocities) Act or Atrocity Act to prevent abuses of SC/ST and punish those who violate their rights. Under this act, provisions exist to establish special courts for speedy trials for cases of atrocity. Committees are formed to monitor the areas that are more prone to the occurrence of these crimes against the SC/ST; a report is then prepared, which is supposedly presented annually in parliament. This act seeks to prevent people from committing oppression and to provide the victims' relief against such discrimination with special rights and privileges to uphold their rights in society. But has the act been effective in preventing the atrocities on the SC/ST community in India?
The crime rates have only increased against SC/STs in India despite these measures the output is not that encouraging. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a crime against scheduled caste and scheduled tribes rose by 7% and 26% respectively in 2019 as compared to 2018. There are 100 cases reported per day regarding the atrocities committed on SC/ST in India. The deep-rooted cause of such doings is the caste-based system where the lower caste community faces discrimination in all aspects of life as they are considered religiously impure since ancient times, and this practice is still in existence. These communities have been victims of crimes and massacres at the hands of the upper caste. The offences are more prevalent in rural areas compared to urban areas. Victims facing issues under the atrocity act could be due to various reasons.
1. Problems of Improper Implementation by Administration
The upper castes dominate the administration, especially at the higher levels, and Scheduled tribes and scheduled castes are discriminated against or shown biases against even in the administration. As per the act, committees created are supposed to monitor the areas, assess the situation, and prepare a report annually regarding the atrocities committed against the SC/ST community and present it before the parliament but this is not done religiously. Many times victims are not compensated for their loss; especially cash compensations are delayed or not paid to them or the witnesses. The administration is mostly negligent towards the cases involving lower caste communities. They fail to conduct a thorough inquiry in cases of the incident, and the abuses of police in these cases are also shielded by the administration if there is any. The reports that the vigilance committees need to present are not made available at the proper time to conduct a timely analysis of the situation at times.
2. Problems Involving Police officials and Department
Police officials are the protectors of law and order. They are expected to safeguard the citizens from any violations against their rights. On the contrary they are themselves committing atrocities on the SC/ST community. The police department has failed to curb the situation as there is under-reporting of such cases and police officers refuse to register cases under the Atrocity act. The cases that are filed face delay in investigation, and sometimes delay in registering FIR without arresting the accused. At times police officials have blood relations with the offenders, and they don’t take any action against these defenders and help cover up the case. Police officers come under the influence of politicians or upper-caste involved in such cases which try to bribe them, and certain corrupt officers cover up the case for them the rest don't reach the courts they have been an all-time increase in crimes against the SC/ST community and corruption has a huge role to play in that.
3. Problems Involving Courts
As per the Atrocity act, special courts have been set up for fast and speedy disposal of the grievances of victims, but these courts are not working as special courts. Some session courts are designated as the special court, and they are overburdened with cases which lead to delay of justice and huge number of pending cases before the court. For the lower caste community who cannot afford or access courts or who are not educated about their rights never report a violation or even when they do they get exploited in the way of getting justice either through the system or the upper caste strata. Therefore, courts have proven to be ineffective in handling the violations against the SC/ST community in certain cases like these.
In my opinion, The Atrocity act has failed the lower caste community as it lacked proper implementation, and their civil rights do not exist for most of the said community. The SC/ST community has been fighting this battle for so many decades. The problems that they face daily are still a cause for concern as they invade their human rights as well as their fundamental rights. Atrocities committed against the SC/ST community can only be eradicated through proper implementation of the act and timely follow-up for the same without any corrupt practices that still exist in the system. Special courts must ensure speedy trial of these cases as they take a lot of time to reach the court and then are rendered pending before these courts. These measures would help in timely justice. We still have a long way to go before the violations cease to exist against the SC/ST community in India.
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