In the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989, the executive has in many cases not adhered to the text and spirit of the legislation. However, it appears that Courts are going in this direction as well – all in the name of COVID-19.
Under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, 1950, every citizen of this country has the right to constitutional remedies when their fundamental rights have been violated by the State. These remedies may be accessed by approaching the respective High Court. However, during the lockdown imposed due to the outbreak of COVID-19, these constitutional guarantees remained only on paper in Tamil Nadu. Both the Chennai and Madurai benches of the Madras High Court and their Subordinates Courts have shut their doors, of course with the primary intention of controlling the spread of COVID-19. However, the courts and the legal process have become completely inaccessible for the common man, especially the most vulnerable sections of the society like individuals from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities.
On 27th January 2020, CLPR organized a workshop titled ‘Tackling caste discrimination through Law’, for activists, NGO representatives, and CSO representatives. The workshop aimed at enabling and facilitating a better understanding of caste discrimination laws such as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 and The Andhra Pradesh Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act, 1982.
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.