Protection of Civil Rights Act does little to combat untouchability, crimes against Dalits

Editor's Note: Discrimination against communities deemed as lower castes is a part-and-parcel of life in rural India. Communities that command power and influence to ostracise and harass the lower castes at will and with impunity as police prove to be of little help. In this four-part series, we attempt to establish the prevalence and gravity of casteism in various states of India, its various forms, why the 'upper castes' prefer this approach and what the conviction rate is for crimes against those belonging to lower castes.

Bhopal: Even 70 years after Independence, social evils like caste discrimination and untouchability prevail in our country. Ineffective implementation of laws aggravates the problem.

The Protection of Civil Rights Act (PCR Act), 1955, prescribes punishment for the enforcement of any disability arising from preaching and practice of untouchability. The budget to implement this Act was Rs 305 crore in the year 2017-18. This law has been implemented across India, but despite this, there has been little positive change.

Data provided by the Madhya Pradesh Police shows that from 2014 to 2016, no case has been registered under the PCR Act.

A total of 254 cases were registered under the Act across the country during this period, and Bihar topped the list with 86 registered cases. In 2016, Maharashtra witnessed the highest number of cases under this Act (16).

 Protection of Civil Rights Act does little to combat untouchability, crimes against Dalits

Representational image. Reuters

Untouchability still prevalent

The report of India Human Development Survey (IHDS)-2 shows how practices like social exclusion and untouchability are still deeply entrenched.

According to the report, 53 percent of the respondents from Madhya Pradesh said they believe in untouchability. Himachal Pradesh was second, with every second person practising untouchability. The states that follow are Chhattisgarh (48 percent), Rajasthan and Bihar (47 percent), Uttar Pradesh (43 percent) and Uttarakhand (40 percent). West Bengal has the lowest percentage of people who say they practice untouchability. Only 1 percent of the respondents in West Bengal said they practised untouchability. Other states which have reported a low figure on this count are Kerala (2 percent), Maharashtra (4 percent) and Arunachal Pradesh (10 percent).

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had sanctioned assistance for a study titled "Evaluation of the Protection of Civil Rights Acts, 1955, and its impact on the eradication of untouchability" by the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, in 2004. The study covered 24 villages in six states — Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. It indicated that the practice of untouchability, though declining, still persists to some extent, and recommended certain amendments in the PCR Act, procedural reforms, prompt payment of compensation to witnesses, and setting up of a civil rights enforcement committee.

MP reports most crimes against STs

Madhya Pradesh, which is home to the largest population of tribals, has also reported the highest number of crimes against the community. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report for 2016, Rajasthan and Odisha figure at the second and third spots respectively in this respect. Madhya Pradesh, which has a tribal population of 1.53 crore, accounted for 27.8 percent of the total crimes against members of the ST population. Rajasthan recorded 1,195 cases, down from 1,409 cases in 2015. Rajasthan has a tribal population of 92.4 lakh and accounts for 18.2 percent crimes against the tribal population. Odisha reported 681 cases of crimes against the tribal population in 2016, as against 691 in 2015.

Rakesh Sagar, Superintendent of Police of Neemuch, said that there is a lack of awareness among the public about the Act. He also rued a lack of resources within the police department.

Sagar further observed, "Most of the times, the victim withdraws the case owing to social pressure."

Victims of crimes are unaware of laws

Deepak Vidrohi, a lawyer who deals with cases of caste discrimination, said, "I feel cases involving untouchability are associated with the reputation of the government. It is an unsaid rule to not register cases under this Act."

Victims are usually unaware about legal aid and the PCR Act, and this is why many of these cases do not reach the court, he added.

Under the PCR Act, the punishment for enforcing denial of access to any water source on the grounds of untouchability is imprisonment for a maximum of six months and a maximum penalty of Rs 500.

The lack of awareness about the Act is not limited to the police administration or the common people. Manoj Parmar, a Dalit activist who works on bringing crimes against the community to light, wasn't aware of this law either.

Faulty implementation

To review the implementation of the PCR Act, Madhya Pradesh has set up a State Level Vigilance and Monitoring Committee under the chairpersonship of the chief minister. District-level vigilance and monitoring committees under the chairpersonship of District Magistrates also carry out this task. Further, at the state level, the Additional Director General of Police heads a cell to review the implementation of the PCR Act. A Protection of Civil Rights cell also functions in the Directorate of Scheduled Caste Welfare under the charge of the additional director to monitor the cases under the PCR Act.

Satish Kumar, director of voluntary organisation Dalit Manav Adhikar Kendra, said that there is a provision under the Gram Panchayat Raj Act, 1995 to set up social justice committees aimed at preventing incidents of discrimination against Dalits. However, according to him, the provision was not taken seriously.

Kumar added that a high-level vigilance and monitoring committee was formed under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for the protection of Dalits in Rajasthan, but the committee has not convened since 2012.

While the law has enough measures to stop oppression of Dalits, not much progress has been made in terms of the implementation of the PCR Act, and the functioning of committees meant for the protection of the community's rights.

(The author is a Bhopal-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)

Updated Date: Aug 06, 2019 17:03:48 IST