The recent Supreme Court order, prescribing stringent precautions before the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, can be invoked, has ignited a huge controversy. All parties seem to be divided on the issue, with several leaders pressing for an early appeal for the reversal of the verdict. A two-member bench of the apex court found merit in the plea that the law was being misused by ‘vested interests’ for political or personal reasons, and therefore, there ought to be requisite precautions before it can be used.
Not unlike the widespread abuse of the anti-dowry law till a few years ago until the courts intervened to rescue harassed relatives and distant relatives of the complainant woman or her family members, the SC-ST law, too, has been widely used to harass people. Reports in this regard from the interior of UP and Bihar have been fairly common. Even in the workplace, members of the higher castes have often complained that they have been victims of the abuse of the Atrocities Act by their subordinates or superiors. There can be no denying that bias against Dalits is deep-rooted in our society. It is also true that the traditionally under-privileged castes need legal protection against exploitation by the higher castes. The objective behind the enactment of the law was indeed laudable.
But, unfortunately, not unlike the anti-dowry law, the SC-ST has been abused to settle personal and/or political scores. Therefore, the SC order laying down necessary safeguards before it can be invoked against an alleged tormentor of a Dalit ought to be welcome. Unfortunately, the entire political class with its gaze fixed firmly on the votes of the numerically large SC-ST community has succumbed under pressure to seek a blanket reversal of the apex court verdict. The competitive politics has degenerated to such an extent that various parties without debating the detailed order are vying with one another to shout loudly against the court order.
The right thing would be to put in place adequate checks and balances to ensure against the misuse of the law while ensuring that the genuine complaints get full protection of the Atrocities Act. Instead of injecting emotion in an issue which is endemic to the society, a balanced approach guaranteeing full protection of the law to the victims of violence and abuse of the underprivileged while protecting innocent people is required. Bleeding-heart liberals, who have rushed to take cavil at the apex court order, need to be aware of the blatant abuse of the Atrocities Act in UP, particularly when Mayawati was the State Chief Minister. Maybe the way out is to simplify the somewhat longish process of protection prescribed by the court in order to reassure the underprivileged that their welfare remains foremost in the minds of the authorities while the latter guard against the law’s abuse. In short, consider the SC order without an eye fixed firmly on the vote-bank politics.
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