Dalits in Hindurashtra – Time for another sadbhavna fast Modiji!
…27 of the 30 complaints that were addressed to the commission spoke of indifference of police officials towards dalits.These issues were raised immediately after NHRC chairman KG Balakrishnan praised status of scheduled castes (SC) in Gujarat. He said the state’s schemes for development of the marginalised are working well and penetration of education among scheduled caste and scheduled tribes has reached 70%.Almost all dalits and their leaders present in the audience were not in agreement with this statement. [DNA]
Justice Balakrishnan, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, and at present Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), – who has remained in news since his retirement altogether for wrong reasons – provided further ammunition to his critics with his recent visit to Gujarat. The manner in which he lauded the state government for its ‘innovative schemes for the upliftment of dalits’ and claims that ‘..[f]uture of the SC community seems to be fairly good in Gujarat as compared to many other states’ is being seen as an attempt to clean chit and whitewash acts of ommission and commission.of a government which is still mired in the controversies surrounding the carnage in 2002
The said two day visit (14-15 th March) was part of the plan envisaged by the Commission to hold “open hearing” sessions on issues related to dalit atrocities in different parts of the country. According to media inputs, this was one of the important recommendattion by the K.B. Saxena committee which had done a painstaking job and brought out a report on dalit atrocities in the country few years back.for the commission itself. Not some time ago the commission had held its first such hearing in the state of Orissa.
Contrary to Justice Balakrishnan’s initial remarks while inaugurating the programme – wherein he was all praise for the state government – the lifeworlds of the dalits presented a completely different picture. Complaints of non-cooperation of police in filing complaints, apaty of the government officials, lack of rehabilitation, were shared by the dalits who had converged from different parts of Gujarat. A village official, Suresh Jadav resident of Kundla village near Sanand, a dalit himself, narrated how he faced social boycott after a temple was built in his village in 2009. According to him like everyone else from the village they had contributed for the temple which was built on common land, but when the temple started functioning he was not allowed to offer puja and when he protested, his family faced social boycottt.
In April a dalit family of Tajpur village of Sabarkantha district, 100 km from Ahmedabad, was targeted by other communities when it tried to take out a marriage procession. Despite police protection, the procession was attacked and stoned. “When it came to filing complaints, the local police sided with the upper castes,” said dalit activist Sanjay Parmar.
A representative of Navsarjan, a voluntary organisation shared their survey of 1,589 villages wherein they found that of these 98 per cent of the villages still practise untouchability. Acording to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, a state-level committee to supervise issues concerning the communities should meet twice every year. Forget two meetings a year the committee has met merely six times since last seventeen years.While the said act, mandates a special court and a special public prosecutor to deal with atrocity cases, but the state government says that it does not have any money for this.
A suspended deputy superintendent of police, SK Makwan, told the judges how he was hounded by his seniors when he conducted inquiries into more that 1,000 cases of atrocities against dalits when he was posted as Deputy Superintendent of Police (atrocity) in Banaskantha district in 2006 and he was prevented from doing his duty or catch the accused.
Lalji Makwana from Bhavnagar narrated his tale to the NHRC panel of how he was unnecessarily harassed by cops only because he had filed an RTI seeking information against local authorities. Meenaben Makwana from Rajula taluka complained of indifference of police officials towards murder of her husband at the hands of people of the higher castes.
Cops of Ahmedabad rural also came under fire after dalits from Sanand complained of forced migration and social boycott in Goraj and Rethal villages. Dalit community leader from Sanand, Babu Vaniya, said that he was wrongly accused in a criminal case because he had led dalits in his village to raise their voice against murder of a community member.
Another activist Purshottam Vaghela, who is fighting for the rights of safai kamdars in Gujarat, said that the state has seen death of 167 sewage workers in last 10 years. “Yet the practice of forcing men into manholes to clean clogged drains continue,” said Vaghela
As expected dalits had poured in from different parts of the state to share their grievances and stories of exclusion, discrimination and deprivation.
It was evident that in its hurry to hold this open hearing, the commission had not even done its homework properly. A cursory glance at its own 2009 report would have made it clear to it that it had declared that Gujarat accounted for 3,813 complaints of human rights violation of the total of 94,559 cases from across the country, which was less than only Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. (Indian Express, 20 th March 2009).
A 23 page confidential report submitted by the state Social Justice Department to the State Chief Secretary and legal departments provides glaring examples of ‘mishandling of cases registered under Prevention of Atrocities Act against SC/ST. (Express, Sep 15, 2006). The rate of of conviction of cases under the Prevention of Atrocity Act against SC/ST in Gujarat is mere 2.5 per cent while rate of acquittal is 97.5 per cent.
The report provides details of how cases are not investigated properly by the police and the hostile role played by public prosecutors during time of trials.
- Act clearly stipulates that offence which are registered under this act cannot be investigated by an officer below the rank of DySP but more than 4,000 such cases have been investigated by Police Inspector or Police Sub Inspector.
- Acquittal of the perpetrator because victim not identified as member of SC or ST community. Reason, not attaching caste certificate of the victim with the case papers
- Public prosecutors false claims before the courts that act has been modified by the state government altough it is known that it is a central act
- Granting of anticipatory bails although there is no such provision in the act. Interestingly the Parliamentary Committee on SC and ST affairs had also expressed concern over such anticipatory bails granted ‘in atrocity cases in the state of Gujarat’.
In fact a detailed and systematic study of 400 judgements done by Vajibhai Patel, Secretary of Council for Social Justice (March 2005, Year 11, No.106, http://www.sabrang.com) had compelled the government to work on this 23 page report. It tells us that utterly negligent police investigation at both the higher and lower levels coupled with a distinctly hostile role played by the public prosecutors is the main reason for the collapse of cases filed under the atrocities act. It is worth noting that he has meticulously documented these judgements delivered under this act since April 1, 1995 in the Special Atrocity Courts set up in 16 districts of the state. The study also blasts the common perception is that the inefficacy of this law is due to false complaints being lodged or compromises between the parties, in actuality it is a complicit State that has rendered the Act toothless.
A writeup in the ‘Communalism Combat’ ( March 2005) by Teesta Setalvad presents in a nutshell the main findings of the study :
# In over 95 per cent of the cases, acquittals have resulted due to technical lapses by the investigation and prosecution, and in the remaining five per cent, court directives are being flouted by the government. Often while crimes under the IPC against the accused have been proved, offences under the Atrocities Act have not, suggesting a systemic bias against recording and establishing crimes under this law.
# As a result of the attitude of the state police and the state public prosecutors, those accused under the Act for criminal acts like murder (for which life imprisonment is the sentence) and rape are being allowed to go scot-free.
# Numerous judgements of the special courts set up under the Atrocities Act in Gujarat — which due to lapses in investigation and prosecution, have led to the acquittals of the accused —have passed strictures against the negligence demonstrated by both the police and the public prosecutors and even summoned time-bound ‘action taken’ reports. Often policemen have even resorted to giving false evidence to protect the accused while prosecutors have attempted to mislead the courts by arguing that the provisions of the Atrocities Act are not mandatory.
# Under section 4 of the Atrocities Act, “Whoever, being a public servant but not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe wilfully neglects duties required to be performed by him under this Act, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year.” In 95 per cent of the judgements studied by the CSJ, courts have passed strictures against errant police officials invoking provisions of section 4 under the Atrocities Act, but the government of Gujarat, instead of taking action against the erring officers, has honoured them with promotions.
The deliberate manner in which the state machinery connives with the perpetrators of the crime is evident in very many ways.
- Acquittal due to investigation by a lower officer : The atrocity rules of the 1995 make it mandatory that investigations of an offence should be carried by either by a DySP or an officer above his rank, who is supposed to send his report directly to the state DGP. In 95 per cent of the cases it is observed that the accused are acquitted merely on the ground that the investigation of the offence was done by an officer below the rank of DySP
- Acquittal due to non-inclusion of caste certificate by the police : The act makes it clear that the caste certificated of the complainant issued by a competent authority be annexed to the complaint and produced by the police before the court.There have been several judgements when rape accused were allowed to go scot free merely because the investigating officer did not annexe the caste certificate of the complainant.
-Negligence by public prosecutors : The appointment of special public prosecutors to try cases is mandatory under the act but the hostile role played by such SPPs to prosecute cases destroys the case. It takes years to reach the stage of trial and when the victim/complainant enters the witness box to depose, s/he does not know who the PP is.The CSJ has studied several judgements in which the courts have passed severe strictures against deliberate attempts by the special public prosecutors to avoid implementing the special provisions under the Act thereby vitiating the prosecution case itself.
The CSJ study rightly notes that ‘an utter lack of commitment to this legislation and lack of political will by state governments to prosecute the atrocities committed under this Act have rendered this legislation meaningless.’ It also tells that ‘the Scheduled Caste Welfare department of the state government, created with the objective of providing social justice to Dalits and Adivasis, has glaring vacancies in key posts making the implementation of social justice measures even more difficult. There are over 300 vacancies in this state department, from the rank of district officer downwards in Gujarat alone.’
The absence of justice despite the longwinding legal machinery and plethora of laws reflects how the society at large views the dalits and has scant regard for its rights.It is evident in the way in which blatant discrimination faced by the dalits wherein they are even denied burial places, or compelled to live in modern ghettos or denied benefits of affirmative action programmes.
The manner in which dalits are not admitted as teachers in non-granted school is a case in point whose numbers hover around 3255 according to the website of the Gujarat State Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board. A close study of these schools may reveal many similarities but the foremost thing over which they seem to be united is to violate the statutroy provisions of the Education act 1972. None of them follow these provisions of the Education act while it is mandatory for such schools to adhere to norm. End result, only handful of teachers from the scheduled communities in all these schools
Under the provisions of the education act – 1972, it is mandatory for all the granted and non-granted schools to abide by the reservation policy while making recruitments. And the rule says that if any school is found to be violating its provisions then its registration can be cancelled. Experience shows that the rule is openly flouted by the non-granted schools. Interestingly the state government has no qualms in accepting that they can’t compel the schools to do it as they are not given any aid.
A report in Indian Express ( Vadodara, May 26, 2008) shared a big expose about this ongoing scam where ‘Government looks the other way as schools flout recruitment norms for teachers.’ According to the social justice and empowerment department, which is supposed to supervise the implementation of the reservation policy, the simple reason for the statutory provisions of the act being not implemented is the absence of a roster reservation act.
Question naturally arises why the state has still not deemed it necessary to take effective steps to stop such malpractice
In fact, a Right To Information (RTI) application filed by a leading social worker of Gujarat enquiring about the no of teachers who have been recruited by the non-granted schools under the reservation policy, led to this expose of details.Expressing concern over the state of affairs, the social worker demanded two things : Cancelling the registration of errant schools and punishing the officers who have been responsible for getting the policy implemented. It needs no underlining that his demand was pushed under the carpet.
The ‘apartheid of a different kind’ practised against the dalits is very much visible in the urban life at various levels. For a dalit finding a house in mixed localities is nearly impossible.
The general experience is that if a Dalit approaches a upper caste builder for accommodation, s/he is either directly discouraged or tacitly denied.It is immaterial even if the Dalit belongs to a sound economic background. For the builders and real estate agents, selling property to even one Dalit family in a society becomes detrimental to sales.
Perhaps it is a marker of the deeply entrenched Varna/caste mindset, which has supposedly received new lease of life after the 2002 carnage, one witnesses a unique trend in Ahmedabad where “only Dalit residential societies – around 300 of them” have come up in recent years. In a study done by the Express reporter he emphasised that it “.. not a matter of choice, but of compulsion.” (A Dalit ? Go find a Dalit society, D P Bhattacharya Ahmedabad, June 17, 2007)”
“Even if a Dalit can afford a flat in areas dominated by the upper castes, they are often denied by the builders or the seller,” retired IAS officer P K Valera, who lives in one such Dalit society in Ramdevnagar, says. Some social scientists say the alienation started since 1982, after the anti-reservation agitation, but agree that the caste and class distinctions have become more serious in recent years. This trend can be seen not only in the walled city but also in the posh areas of west Ahmedabad like Satellite, Vastrapur, Bodakdev, Ambavadi. Socio-political scientist Achyut Yagnik says, “There are more than 300 Dalit societies in the city. In Chandkheda alone, there are 200 societies, most of which have come up after the 2002 riots when people moved out from Gomtipur, Bapunagar and Dani limda area. You will find construction contractors who only build Dalit societies.”
If the live dalits have no place of dignity in ‘Hindu Rashtra’, one can just imagine the status of the dead.
It was the year 2001 when Naresh Solanki’s two and half year old nephew died. The aggrieved family from Hooda village Palanpur block of Banaskantha district went and buried him in the community burial grounds. No sooner they reached home came the news that a Patel community member from the village had literally exhumed the body of the child with a tractor.For the powerful patels who had encroached on some part of land next to the burial ground had felt offended with the burial.
It has been more than eleven years that the incident took place, the dalits of Hooda village are still waiting for allotment of some land for burial from the collector and the village panchayat since then, but to no avail.It was only last year that one community elder died the dalits had to carry his body to another village, where fortunately Dalits there had a separate graveyard. .
But can it be said that the problem of no land even for burials is limited to Hooda or it is a statewide phenomenon. A report carried by ‘Mail Today’ in the first week of Feb, 2009 had thrown light on the issue. It tells us that dalits are not allowed to use common burial grounds and are often forced to use a part of waste land near the villages as burial grounds. Absence of any legal entitlement forces them to be pushed out of such lands by dominant upper castes.
A survey conducted by Gujarat Rajya Grampanchayat Samajik Nyay Samiti Manch found out that ‘[o]ut of 657 villages in Gujarat, 397 villages do not have any designated land alloted for burial for dalits. Out of the 260 villages where land has been formally allotted, 94 have seen encroachments by the dominant castes and in 26 villages it is a lowlying area and therefore the ground gets waterlogged.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that when the question of burying the deads comes up, dalits share a strange commonality with the Muslims. Muslims share similar predicament when they find their graveyards getting encroached by the dominant classes. Few years back the Gujarat Highcourt had to intervene and ask the State government to post police personnel as attempts were on to encroach upon the graveyard of Muslims in Patan.
The “open hearing’ by the NHRC is over but in this process it has once again brought forth hitherto less reported aspects of the social life of ‘vibrant gujarat’. It became once again clear that despite all claims by the state government a large majority of the dalit masses effectively live life of a secondary citizen in the state.
The fact that the commission received more than 100 complaints on alleged police atrocities, particularly the police refusing to register their complaints, or showing total inaction in pursuing the cases after registering the complaints was definitely not good news for the powers that be although on its part it promptly refuted few of the complaints, but the damage to its well built image was already done. It was revealed that at least 77 villages in Gujarat have been forced to migrate due to social boycotts and the state has a very – low conviction rate – just 5 percent – in atrocity cases in the state.
To show its utter displeasure over the unfolding developments it ordered the mediapersons out of the “open” hearing. The NHRC team was supposed to meet state government officials at Circuit House in Shahibaug area of Ahmedabad on Tuesday to get clarifications over the complaints, mainly about atrocities against Dalits and scheduled castes. The information and public relations officer of NHRC, had even made it clear that the next day’s meeting with state officials was not to be a closed-door meeting and that media would be allowed in.
According to media reports all was “when the meeting began with powerpoint presentations by the government which higlighted the state government’s “pro-Dalit approach”. When the presentations were over commission members addressed the gathering. However, as soon as the commission started asking quesitons which were earlier raised in the public hearing held previous day Chief Secretary A K Joti promptly intervened, and instructed the mediapersons to leave the hall since it was a “closed-door meeting”.
Perhaps it is time for ‘Prime Minister aspirant’ Narendra Modi to take another round of Sadbhavana fasts, this time focussing on the dalits to brush up his image.