Fate of anti-atrocities Act in Gujarat more than two decades after it was promulgated to protect the rights of Dalits and Adivasis

A Dalit was burnt alive in this house of Ankloli village, forcing Dalit families to migrate
A Dalit was burnt alive in this house of Ankloli village, forcing several families to migrate to Una town

Kantilal Parmar*, a senior Dalit rights activist with the Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, analyzes how the anti-atrocities Act remains on paper in Gujarat even two decades after it was promulgated. A writeup to mark the Human Rights Day, which fell on December 10:

Even 66 years after Independence, whether it is India or Gujarat, there is no end to atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis. Violation of basic human rights, including social and political rights, has become an almost daily affair. There have been large number of cases when, those seeking to raise their voice by becoming aware of their rights, are hacked to death. Women’s dignity has come under stress, even as the state machinery remains indifferent. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (anti-atrocities Act), promulgated by Parliament to protect the basic human rights of the scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs), was put into operation following the declaration of rules in 1995, which laid down procedures to implement the Act. Yet, basic provisions of the Act are not being implemented in Gujarat.

SCs constitute 7.9 per cent and STs 14 per cent of the state’s population. Together, they form 1.20 crore people of Gujarat. Gujarat has State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), whose job is to protect their rights. From time to time, Dalit and Adivasi organizations represent to the SHRC as also different government organization about their sufferings. They have simultaneously represented before the National Human Rights Commission in the hope of getting justice. Yet, it has been found that the Act has mostly remained on paper. Following facts suggest how Gujarat state administration has been indifferent towards implementation of the anti-atrocities Act:

  1. Each year, the chief minister must call for two meetings, once in six months, of the vigilance and monitoring committee in order to assess how the Act is being implemented in the state. This is never done.
  2. Every district is obliged to prepare a panel of senior lawyers to fight atrocity cases. So far, no such panel has been formed in any district.
  3. Every six months, the district collector should personally monitor the implementation of the anti-atrocities Act, which is rarely done.
  4. The district magistrate in association with law department officials must prepare a monthly analytical report on the implementation of the anti-atrocities Act and send it the state government. This is not happening.
  5. Victims of atrocities should be allowed to choose the lawyers of their choice to fight their cases, which never happens.
  6. Whenever an atrocity case comes to light before the authorities, it is the duty of senior officials – of the level of district magistrate or sub-divisional magistrate or executive magistrate or dySP – to visit the spot immediately and assess the extent of atrocity. This never happens.
  7. In Gujarat, a special court is attached with each district sessions court to deal with cases of anti-atrocities Act. Special courts exist just on paper, as they have no infrastructure, no staff and do not have the capacity to deal with the anti-atrocities Act.
  8. Nothing is done by the Gujarat government to go in for an appeal before the High Court in cases which acquire particular attention.
  9. Compensation is rarely paid to SC and ST members who become victims of atrocities.
  10.  There no move to appoint officials on special duty in districts declared as atrocity prone to coordinate atrocity cases with the district magistrate, the superintendent of police and other officials responsible for implementing the Act.
  11. Resurvey of atrocity-prone districts in Gujarat is long overdue.
  12. There is no move on the part of the government to ensure special allocation under SC sub-plan and ST sub-plan for the rehabilitation of the victims of atrocities.
  13. Compensation to the victims of SC and ST atrocity cases should be paid by the district collector in consonance with the 1995 rules of the Act, which does not happen.
  14. Special police stations should be set up to deal with atrocity cases, which is not happening.
  15. Those who become victims of serious atrocities, such as murder, rape, or social boycott, should be accommodated in government jobs. This has not been happening.
  16. Many atrocity cases have been closed because of lack of evidence and filed as “A” summary. There is no move to reopen them for investigation under a special team appointed by the government.
  17. Each district has an SC/ST cell, which should be headed by an official of the level of dySP in order to investigate cases of atrocities. This has not happened in 17 of Gujarat’s districts.
  18. In each district, a PSI level official should be appointed in the social welfare department office. This has been done only in Jamnagar district.
  19. The Act makes it obligatory to finish off with investigation in a month’s time in order to file cases, which rarely happens.
  20. In each district, there exist vigilance and monitoring committees to look into cases filed under the Act. During their quarterly reviews, senior officials and government advocates are rarely present.
  21. Free transportation facility should be given to those who reach the court during hearings, which rarely happens.
  22. Those officials found to be guilty of failing to follow the provisions of the Act should be punished. They should be removed from their posts and inquiry should be instituted for their negligence. This is rarely done.

At the same time, there is a need to take strict and imminent steps on the following cases, involving the anti-atrocities Act:

  • On September 22-23, 2012, three Dalit youth were killed in police firing in Thangarh village, Chotika taluka, Surendranagar district. A criminal case was registered against four policemen under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 302 and Section 3(2)5 of the anti-atrocities Act. While a chargesheet was filed a year later in the case of murder of Pankaj Amishbhai, no chargesheet has yet been filed on the murder of the two other Dalit youth. One-person inquiry was lodged under principal secretary, social justice and empowerment, Sanjay Prasad, by the Gujarat government. Prasad has submitted his report to the government. Yet, even a year after the incident, no steps have been taken against any of the cops accused in the murder of these youth, and the investigation is continuing. The accused include PSIs KP Jadeja and Bharatsinh Solanki, and constables Yogeshdan Gadhvi and Nathubha Rana. Demands have been raised to: (1) Hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by a special investigation team; (2) catch all the accused and chargesheet them; (3) rehabilitate the victims; (4) provide government jobs to one member each of the victims’ families; (5) and cancel criminal cases instituted against the Dalits for causing disturbance, and initiate cases against those who registered false cases under the anti-atrocities Act.
  • On September 11, 2012, Lalji Kalaji Sarvaiya, aged 27, was attacked and burnt alive in his house in Ankloli village, Una taluka, Junagardh district, by powerful persons of the village. A case was registered at Gir Gadhada police station against 12 persons under several sections of the IPC and the anti-atrocities Act. Fearing more attacks, 19 Dalits migrated from the village and are currently living in rented houses in Dr Ambedkar Colony in Una town. The family members have put forth the following demands” (1) All the Dalits who are living in Una should be declared as internally displaced persons; (2) one member of each family should be provided with government job; (3) Each family should be provided with five acres land for cultivation to take care of their livelihood problem; (4) special public prosecutor should be appointed to fight the case; (5) government should take care of education of the children; (6) doles should be paid to the migrated families; (7) houses should be built by government free of cost to each family; and (8) Members of families brought court for hearing should be provided with police protection.
  • On February 1, 2011, Bhomaji Devaji’s seven-year-old girl was raped and murdered in Bapunagar, Ahmedabad. Her body was found in a school. The crime branch is investigating it following a case filed under several IPC sections. Even four years after the investigation, the accused has not been identified.
  • On January 14, 2013, in village Dolatpura, Viramgam taluka, Ahmedabad district, higher caste persons attacked Dalits following a dispute over the distribution of Narmada water. During firing, several Dalits were seriously injured, following which a criminal case was registered at the Viramgam (rural) police station under several sections of the IPC and anti-atrocities Act. Ever since, 18 Dalit families have been facing social boycott. Currently, the situation is such that the Dalits are not employed as agricultural workers, they are not allowed sharecropping agreement, and they are refused employment even in the nearby farms because of the influence of the upper caste villagers, and they are not allowed to buy milk or foodgrains in the village. Though they wrote complaint to the taluka development officer for being allowed to work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) on July 25, 2013, they were given job cards, but they have still not been employed under NREGS.   The police have so far not taken any steps against those responsible for social boycott. Meanwhile, some of the families have been forced to shift to Dhrangadhra and Patdi in Surendranagar district.
  • On June 23, 2013, Amitbhai Rameshbhai Chavda, aged 21, of Amraiwadi, Ahmedabad, was burnt alive. A case was registered under several sections of the IPC and anti-atrocities Act. Yet, so far the accused has not been nabbed.
  • On January 24, 2012, Atulbhai Khodabhai Rathod was hacked to death by upper caste persons in Rethal village of Sanand taluka, Ahmedabad district. The case has been held up because of the failure to appoint a special public prosecutor in Ahmedabad sessions court.
  • On June 26, 2012, 26-year-old Dashrathbhai Ramjibhai Solanki was forced to commit suicide in village Kelia Vasna in Dholka taluka, Ahmedabad district, following an upper caste person refusing to pay wages to him. A police complaint was lodged, yet no steps have been taken against the accused.
  • A 12-year-old Dalit boy, Nareshbhai Nanjibhai Chauhan, along with three Muslim youth, was beaten up in the police lockup in Dasada village of Surendranagar district on May 21, 2012. They were kept in the lockup without any reason for three days. The police refused to take complaint.
  • Maganbhai Bijalbhai Tundia, 54, filed a complaint with the Junagadh taluka police station on August 8, 2013, saying that social boycott has been imposed by persons of higher caste on five Dalit families of Bamangam village. Even today, they are refused any foodgrains or milk in local shops, nor are they allowed to work in the nearby farms. The police have refused to take any action against the accused.
  • On March 3, 2013, Dineshbhai Bachubhai Sardhara of Kuda village of Ghogha taluka, Bhavnagar district, was illegally kept in the police lockup for three days and was beaten up. His dead body was found hung in the toilet of the lockup on March 9, 2013. No steps have been taken against the accused.
  • On January 14, 2011, a Dalit youth, Laljibhai Bhanabhai Boricha was murdered in the agricultural fields of Vadli village of Rajula taluka, Amreli district. A complaint was lodged on January 15, 2013, yet the accused have not been identified.
  • On January 1, 2010, a Dalit girl was gang-raped in Limdi in Surendranagar district after she was forced to drink alcohol. The Limdi sessions court set free all four accused. The Gujarat government has not gone into an appeal in the High Court to bring the accused to book.
  • On August 3, 2011, a case was filed against a person for raping a mentally challenged tribal girl in Alina village of Kheda district. The accused has been set free by the sessions court. The Gujarat government hasn’t yet gone into appeal in the High Court.
  • On October 17, 2013, Bhagwanjibhai Bhavajibhai Vania, aged 60, of village Zer of Kapadvanj taluka, Kheda district, died following an attack on him by upper caste persons after he began cultivating his agricultural land which he had put on mortgage for want of money. The family does not have the possession of the land even today. It has not been rehabilitated, nor has government job been provided to a member of the family. No police protection is given when family members are brought to the court for hearing.
  • On March 19, 2013, Champaben Amratbhai Senma, who works as chairman of the social justice committee of Chekhla village of Sanand taluka, Ahmedabad district, and is a member of the village panchayat, was insulted in a very bad way by the village sarpanch. On April 29, 2013, she filed a complaint against the sarpanch under the anti-atrocities Act, saying the sarpanch should be removed from his post for holding casteist bias. A complaint was also lodged before the district development officer, Ahmedabad, yet no action has been taken.
  • Five Dalit families of Goraj village, Sanand taluka, Ahmedabad district, have been forced to migrate following continuous attacks on the Dalit families by upper caste persons. Though complaints against the accused were made in the Sanand police station in October 2010, the accused were nabbed after lapse of a long time. No steps have been taken to ensure that families which migrated return to their village.
  • Sureshbhai Jadav of Kundal village, Sanand taluka, Ahmedabad district, complaint to the police against the upper caste persons who did not allow the Dalits to enter into the temple of the village during an idol installation ceremony on May 27, 2007.  Following the complaint, Jadav’s family faced social boycott and was forced to leave the village, It is currently staying in Sanand town. The accused were booked late. No efforts have been made to rehabilitate the victim.
  • On November 19, 2013, a Dalit woman was kidnapped and gang-raped in railway quarters of Rajkot. The accused have still not been caught.
  • Twenty-six families of Dhada village, Deesa taluka, Banaskantha district, were forced to migrate about three years ago following the murder of a Dalit youth. Ever since, these families have been staying in make-shift tents in front of the Deesa mamlatdar office. No efforts are being made to rehabilitate them.
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