The Maratha rallies, demanding reservations for the community, which literally swamped each and every town and city with unprecedented attendance without a slogan being shouted and without an untoward incident so far, is yet to storm Mumbai. Though promised and planned, it has been on hold because of demonetisation.
However, the issue was taken to the state legislature by elected representatives in its winter session of the state Assembly at Nagpur to hear assurances from Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis that the community would get its due, and that the issue would be tackled efficiently at every level. On one demand, however, he held firm: no dilution of the Atrocities Act.
This as unambiguous a stance as it was in October when he had ruled out its abolition. This time, he also ruled out any dilution either. The Act, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is an enactment of the Parliament, and if Maharashtra were to seek any softening of provisions, it is unlikely to be agreed to by the rest of the country.
The Act of 1989 had been amended, but only to strengthen it, and came into force only recently. The Centre had communicated to all states that complaints and allegation of atrocities "despite provisions of an enabling Act" was a "matter of concern". The strengthening of the Act by a bill of 2014 was to make provisions “more effective”. New crimes were added which leaves Fadnavis no room to plead with the Centre.
Known popularly as the Atrocities Act, the Maratha community has been insisting, that the Dalits use it to harass them, including by threatening its use. He appears to have taken a middle course by assuring that in consultation with all parties, he would set up a committee of legislators to find ways to ensure that the Act was not misused. He has referred to the fears of the SCs and STs about the consequences of tinkering with the Act.
Ramdas Athavale, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, himself a Dalit leader, had spoken of a “relook” around the same time. If the state government succeeds in pointing out “some shortcomings (in the Act) which need a re-look (at) to stop its misuse, it can be considered by the Centre”. Ramdas too had underscored the “unanimity” of the opinion that the Act should remain and serve its stated objective to protect the rights of Dalits and tribals”.
It can be now clearly understood that Maharashtra may not seek any softening, but it is quite likely that the committee Fadnavis is intending to set up would necessarily take a while before it comes up with the ways to ensure that the Act was not misused. In the meanwhile, because the Opposition walked out, implying that the political pot on the issue of Maratha reservations and other demands would be kept simmering.
Fadnavis did concede that between 1,400 t0 2,000 cases using the Atrocities Act are filed in Maharashtra but compared to other states, they were on the lower side. On the other hand, there have been other voices with differing views, which pointed to the decline in the number of cases registered, from 4,756 in 2010 to 2,206 in 2014, and till August 2016, 1,554 cases were filed. If they were barely used, how could anyone say they were used? A top official who heads a cell collating date on crimes against SCs and STs had told The Wire, “We can’t say if misuse of the Act exists or no.”
Though the Dalit leaders have often said that unless in the gravest of cases, the machinery avoids even registering cases, leave alone investigate and bring to book alleged perpetrators of such crimes despite complaints taken to police stations. Obviously, statistics are one thing, and a perception is another. Fadnavis has tried to keep both sides calms, but the issue is not going to be so easily settled unless the reservations are announced for the Marathas.
Updated Date: Dec 14, 2016 10:08:19 IST