On 21.06.2019, Pratap, a Dalit man in Gudlupete, Karnataka who went to fetch water from a temple, was tied to a tree inside the temple, brutally assaulted and paraded naked on the highway by the villagers, including a policeman. This incident yet again throws the issue of caste discrimination into sharp focus. It is a testimony to the pervasiveness of caste discrimination in India and the prevalence of the practice of untouchability.
CLPR’s Equality Fellows participated in a fact-finding mission to investigate the incident and the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA Act) in this case.
The SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act – what does the Act say?
The PoA Act was enacted to prosecute, prevent, and monitor atrocities against individuals from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). The Act outlines various obligations of the State Government to prevent atrocities, protect victims and witnesses, provide relief, rehabilitation, and access to justice. However, the fact-finding exercise revealed that despite the exhaustive nature of the PoA Act and its rules, its implementation is lacking in several respects.
Key findings of the fact-finding
We first approached the Gundlupete police station, which had registered the FIR. The Sub-Inspector expressed that he did not want to comment on the on-going investigation. He refused to reveal the identity of the police officer who was involved in the assault. He only informed us that the concerned police officer had been suspended. Despite the PoA Act providing for punishment of public officials for neglect of duties in Section 4, no case has been registered against the police officer so far.
Section 15A of the PoA Act imposes a duty on the State to protect victims, their dependents and witnesses against intimidation, coercion, inducement, and violence. The State is mandated to provide protection to victims and witnesses, travel and maintenance expenses during investigation, inquiry and trial, and socio-economic rehabilitation including relocation. However, despite receiving threatening phone calls, Pratap and his family have not been provided with any police protection. Further, given the performance of the public prosecutors (PP), Pratap was not provided with a de facto complainant lawyer to assist the PP or with legal aid as per Section 15A(11).
Next, we approached the Social Welfare Department. The Assistant Director informed us that a part of the statutory compensation had been paid to Pratap. However, when we enquired about the implementation of other measures such as workshops and awareness programmes on caste discrimination, the Assistant Director mentioned that there was a lack of funds.
We finally met with Pratap and his family, who highlighted the difficulties they faced while registering the FIR at the police station. So far, none of his medical expenses have been reimbursed in accordance with Section 15A(11). Further, the belongings found on him on the day of the attack such as his mobile phone, scooter, gold chain, and wallet have not been returned to him by the police nor has any case been lodged to investigate into and restore these items.
This incident reveals that the justice delivery mechanism for an aggrieved SC/ST person, from filing a police complaint to receiving victim compensation on time and in full to testifying in court without intimidation or coercion, is nothing short of daunting.
CLPR is working on a consolidated report of the incident to highlight how laws that are enacted to safeguard and protect the members of the SC/ST community are riddled with irregularities.