Maratha concerns are important, but for Dalits, Atrocities Act must be protected
More than six lakh Dalits gathered at Chaityabhoomi in Dadar (on 6 December) to pay homage to Dr BR Ambedkar
More than six lakh Dalits gathered at Chaityabhoomi in Dadar (on 6 December) to pay homage to Dr BR Ambedkar. A group of volunteers from the Facebook Ambedkarite Movement (FAM) had put up a banner stating: “Need to protect the Atrocities Act”. The banner was put up at the entrance of the nearby Shivaji Park — a popular spot for hosting several political gatherings. The banner carried some important clauses of the Atrocities Act, used to prevent the commission of offences/atrocities against the people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. A blank space was provided on one side of the banner.
Many Dalits, especially the Buddhists had expressed their views by writing on the banner until late at night. And while the signature campaign was in full force at Chaityabhoomi on the night of 6 December, a shocking incident had occurred nearly 275 kilometres away from Mumbai. At 10.30 pm, a mob of 250 people were heard shouting slogans that named ‘Shivaji Maharaj’. They had attacked a Buddhist settlement in a village called Chinchner Vandan in Satara district. These people allegedly belonged to the Maratha caste. More than 50 households were destroyed in the attack. Marathi media reports suggested that household items and vehicles belonging to the Buddhist community had been destroyed.
Around 31 people were arrested after the attack and were booked under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. There has been a city-wide strike in Satara, post-attack. Even police security was tightened to maintain the law and order in Chinchner Vandan village and places in and around Satara.
The attack was allegedly the result of a rift between people from two different communities living in the same village. Siddharth Danane of Chinchaner village reportedly killed Aruna Mohite on 30 November. Siddharth was a Buddhist and Aruna belonged to the Maratha caste and both of them were romantically involved. Danane was arrested on 5 December in connection with the murder. The romantic involvement of a Buddhist man with a Maratha girl was intolerable for the villagers belonging to the Maratha community. They expressed their intolerance on the night of 6 December. Before the attack they allegedly cut down the electricity connection in the Buddhist settlement.
It's worth noting that this isn't the first such case in Satara or Maharashtra. These incidents have occurred quite often in the past due to such killings that stem from love affairs between Dalits and members from the Maratha community.
Per the recent records of the Maharashtra State Police, the implementation of the Atrocities Act remains a futile exercise as Satara district has reported around 282 complaints of such a nature — between January 2011 and August 2016. Besides, Solapur alone reported 449, Nashik 260, Jalna 299, Beed 444 and Nanded 359 registered cases/FIRs under the Atrocities Act.
A few months ago, some Dalit men had raped a Maratha girl in Kopardi, a small village in Ahmednagar district. In reaction to this incident, Sharad Pawar, president of the Nationalist Congress Party had appealed to revoke the Atrocities Act. Taking back his statement the next day, Pawar had stated that he did not mean to revoke the Act but would suggest for few amendments for better functioning. Politically speaking, he may be inclined towards the Marathas but he has always tried to project himself as an all-inclusive and secular politician. Just a few days after the incident, Raj Thackeray, president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had visited the victim’s family and had also suggested that “the Act needs some amendments, as some Dalits have misused this Act to threaten or blackmail upper caste people”.
On the other hand, a few Dalit office bearers from the Maharashtra Navnirman Vidyarthi Sena (the MNS' student wing) lodged a complaint against Dr Kavita Rege, principal of Sathaye College in Mumbai, under the Atrocities Act. The MNS is the only political party to lodge complaint against the principal of an educational institution under the Act. But, Raj seems to have forgotten this.
After these statements from Pawar and Raj, members of the Maratha community planned silent protests in many districts of Maharashtra. There was speculation in political circles that Pawar might be the brain behind Maratha’s silent march. However, he chose to stay away from it. The first demand of the protesters was a death sentence for all the convicts involved in the Kopardi case. However, the long-term objective was to bring necessary amendments in the Atrocities Act, to avoid its misuse and provide reservation for the Maratha community. They had a few demands on the financial, social and cultural fronts, as well. Apart from the Atrocities Act, all major political parties have openly shown a positive response to every other demand proposed by them. Ramdas Athawale, president of the Republican Party of India and Member of Parliament, has supported these demands too, except the demand for amendments to the Atrocities Act.
In response to the Maratha Morcha, the Dalits announced a ‘Bahujan Kranti Morcha’ from 14 December to 21 January, 2017 in districts across the state of Maharashtra.
Many communities including the Marathas have pointed out the misuse of the Atrocities Act. This allegation is, however, some perspective is required. On the other side, there has been an increase in the crime rate against Dalits and the people belonging to the Buddhist community. At the national level, we have been witnessing atrocity against people belonging to Scheduled Castes, such as Chamar, Bhangi and other related Scheduled Tribes. As per the information shared by the National Crime Record Bureau in 2000, around 1,486 Dalit women were raped and around 585 Dalits were killed. In 2014, this number rose to 3,158 and 861 respectively. According to various social activists and as with most criminal records, the reported number is lower than the actual number of atrocities.
In this context, the Atrocities Act is important and must stay.
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