Urgently act, effectively prevent, punish those involved in atrocities against SCs, STs in Tamil Nadu

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Letter by PS Krishnan, IAS (Retd) — former Secretary to Government of India, Ministry of Welfare; Member, National Monitoring Committee for Education of SCs, STs and Persons with Disabilities, Government of India — to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on the need for urgent action to effectively prevent and severely punish those involved in atrocities against SCs and STs:

I am writing this letter for your kind consideration, in order to bring to your personal notice certain steps required by law to be taken by the State Chief Minister under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) 1989 (POA Act 1989) and POA Amendment Act 2015 and statutory Rules, in the context of the recent judgment of 12.12.2017 of Principal District and Sessions Court, Tiruppur in the case of the gruesome murder (Aanavakkolai) of Thiru V. Shankar, following his marriage with Tmt. Gowsalya, which judgment awarded death sentences to six of the accused including Tmt. Gowsalyas father. I have been a prime mover in securing the enactment of both these Acts and I have been following cases of atrocities in different parts of India including Tamil Nadu.

The Tiruppur Principal District and Sessions Court and the Special Public Prosecutor deserve appreciation for having completed the trial in one year and nine months after the crime and in one year and six months after the trial started, which is much faster than the usual run of cases of atrocities including Kilavenmani (1968) and Vachchati (1991). This was facilitated by part implementation of the POA Amend. Act 2015 by the State Government by appointing a Special Public Prosecutor for this case. If an exclusive special court had also been set up in Tiruppur, this case could have been completed much faster. The Act requires trial in atrocity cases to be completed within two months.

The following are the urgent steps required by the above Acts and Rules, which have not been taken and which need to be taken to ensure full implementation of the above Acts and statutory Rules and to make available to the SCs and STs of Tamil Nadu their Fundamental Right to Life which the Constitution mandates:

(i) Restoration of Security for Survivors

There is clear perception of threat to the life and security of Tmt. Gowsalya and of Thiru Shankars family. I understand from an interview of Tmt. Gowsalya by the anchor of News7 Tamil channel on 12.12.2017 that police protection given to them was withdrawn a year after Thiru Shankars murder. Effective police protection should be restored and maintained till the threat fully disappears, to the satisfaction not only of the Department, but also of the above survivors.

(ii) Establishment of Exclusive Special Courts in each District

This is necessary for quick and successful trial of cases of atrocities and as required under the POA Amendment Act 2015. The Act requires the cases of atrocities to be disposed of within two months of the crime. This will be possible only if there are exclusive special courts. Quick trial by such courts will also reduce scope for witnesses being threatened into silence by local powerful elite.

Atrocities against SCs and STs have been taking place in every district and can in future take place in every district. Therefore, an exclusive special court is required in every district as per the POA Amend. Act 2015.

(iii) Carefully Selected Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors

Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors should be carefully selected and appointed for every Exclusive Special Court. I appreciate the State Government for appointing a Special Public Prosecutor for the Shankar Aanavakkolai case. This must be institutionalized by carefully selecting and appointing an Exclusive Special Public Prosecutor for every Exclusive Special Court in every district as required by the POA Amend. Act.
The establishment of such Exclusive Special Courts and appointment of Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors should not wait for an atrocity to take place, but should be set up and announced immediately. The establishment of such Exclusive Special Courts and such Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors in reality will be an alert to potential perpetrators of atrocities that punishment will swiftly follow and this will itself operate as a deterrent to a great extent.

(iv) Setting up of a high-level Vigilance and Monitoring Committee immediately and holding of its meetings every January and July

The statutory Rule 16 requires the setting up of this Committee with the Chief Minister as Chairman and Ministers of Home, Finance, and SC and ST Departments, SC and ST MPs, MLAs and MLCs, Chief Secretary, Principal Secretaries of Home and SC and ST Departments, DGP; and local representatives of National Commissions for SCs and STs as members.

(v) Diligent Action at the High Court State and other Stages

The death sentences in the present case will have to go to the High Court for confirmation. There may also be appeals to the High Court and Supreme Court and mercy petitions. The State Government needs to attend immediately to the case at the High Court stage and promptly at every subsequent stage until the final point of implementation of the punishments awarded by the court. It will be useful to carefully select and appoint a Special Advocate General for this case, who can also be entrusted with other atrocity cases when they reach the High Court.

(vi) Preparation of a Comprehensive Scheme

The State Government needs to prepare an appropriate comprehensive scheme for the rights and entitlements of victims, dependents and witnesses in accessing justice as required by Section 15A in Chapter IVA of the POA Amendment Act. Such a scheme should be immediately prepared and publicized, and effectively implemented.

(vii) Publicity of Lesson from Gowsalya Shankar Case

This case shows that the life of a young man with a promising career was snuffed out, the life of a young woman also with a promising career blighted, a family has been drowned in sorrow, and six persons including Tmt. Gowsalyas father are facing premature death by law. This is an example of wholesale destruction caused by the caste system. This should be widely publicized and people exhorted to come out of the death trap of the caste system and caste mentality.

(viii) Comprehensive Action in Past Cases

There are a number of cases of the past where persons have been killed for Dalit and non-Dalit marriages and surviving wives and families are languishing. I remember the cases of Tmt. Divya and Tmt. M. Abirami. The body of Tmt Divyas husband Thiru Ilavarasan was found on a culvert adjoining a railway station in Dharmapuri on July 4, 2013. Tmt. Abiramis husband Thiru Marimuthu was found dead in the Vadassery river in 2012, two years after their marriage. Her elder brother and father were convicted in October 2015. The State Government and the Vigilance and Monitoring Committee have to take stock of such cases, ensure confirmation of death sentences by the High Court effectively and successfully contest appeals and implement death sentences without loss of time I deplore all untimely and violent deaths, but death sentences awarded by courts in cases of atrocities need to be implemented as quickly as possible in the spirit of timely surgical amputation to save the body so that future killings of SCs and STs are deterred. Cases in which trial is still pending should be expedited by measures mentioned at (ii) and (iii) above. All survivors should be fully, permanently and honorably rehabilitated. The State Government should take charge of the entire education of the children of Tmt. Abirami and other such survivors.

(ix) Full Protection in all Past and Future Cases

The State Government should take stock of all inter-caste marriages between Dalits and non-Dalits, give them full protection and have a scheme for full protection and rehabilitation in every case of inter-caste marriage of the future.

(x) Action Regarding Biased Acs by Some Police Personnel

The role of some local police personnel in a number of cases has been adversely commented upon like that of the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Usilampeti in respect of Thiru Dilip Kumar and Tmt. Vimala Devi in 2014 (Sunday Express, May 8, 2016). Police officers and personnel who have committed dereliction of duty should be prosecuted under Section 4 of the Act. The IPS officers of the State must be required to rectify caste-biases on the part of lower officers and personnel.

(xi) Honoring of Partners in Inter-caste Marriages

Annihilation of Caste is a goal which was placed before Indian society by great reformers like Dr Babasaheb Ambekdar and Periyar. Recently, the Honble Prime Minister has given a call for Jatimukt Bharat (ie., Caste-free India). Young Dalit-non-Dalit couples and Adivasi-non-Adivasi couples have made signal contribution towards the achievement of this goal all children and young people are dear to us and need to be supported for their progress; those of them who breach caste and Untouchability barriers in the most important decision of their personal lives, namely, marriage, are also socially valuable. They not only need to be protected and rehabilitated as mentioned at (viii) and (ix) above, but also should be felicitated and honoured at public functions presided over by the Chief Minister at Chennai and Minister(s) and District Collectors and SPs in respective districts. This should be done in respect of all such existing couples, surviving partners where one has been murdered and all future couples.

(xii) Need for New Act in Addition to the Existing POA and POA Amendment Acts

Killings and other outrages occur to a maximum extent when marriages are between Dalits and non-Dalits this is in addition to atrocities on grounds like land, wages, resistance to Untouchability etc, which have been happening in the past and still happen. But there are also instances where such crimes take place when the partners belong to a non-Dalit lower caste and an upper caste. To cover such cases, it will be necessary to have a separate Act with provisions for effective protection, deterrent death sentence and total rehabilitation. Where a case involves a Dalit, the existing POA Amendment Act and the new Act can be invoked. Where neither of the partners is a Dalit, the new Act will be of effective use. This is particularly important because inter-caste marriages are bound to become and should become more and more frequent in future.

Such an Act can be legislated by the Parliament as well as State legislatures. The Tamil Nadu State Government can take the initiative without waiting for the Centre to move for a national legislation. Chief Minister may consider moving for such a State legislation. In drafting this legislation, in addition to the concerned Departmental officers, Social Justice-minded lawyers, educationists, social workers and Tmt. Gowsalaya who has been pleading for such an Act and others like her may also be associated. Retired judges who are known for Social Justice-sensitivity will be valuable in guiding this. I shall also be happy to help if the State Government so desires.

(xiii) Education Regarding Harm of Caste System

The caste system and its all-round harm including its harm to the optimal economic progress of the nation with its adverse consequences on the growth of employment opportunities for the youth of all communities should be effectively impressed on the younger generation through the education system and syllabus. In Tamil Nadu, there are educationists and other professionals who are committed to social reform, Social Justice and eradication of the caste system. They, apart from concerned Departmental officers, should be associated in drawing up syllabi appropriate to different age groups.

(xiv) Close Study of Act by Leaders of Government and Administration

The Act needs to be closely studied by Chief Minister, Home Minister, SC and ST Department Ministers, Chief Secretary, Home Secretary, DGP and they need to take full charge of its thorough and sincere implementation. Training courses should be held at different levels for police officers and other police personnel and for District Collectors and other officers of the District Administration and the syllabi for these courses should be prepared carefully with the help of reform-minded and Social Justice-sensitive educational and other professionals as mentioned at (xiii) above.

Tamil Nadu has been a pioneer in Social Justice and the movement against Caste. But the reform process has not been completed and the SCs and STs have not received the protection that is their right, as also mandated by specific Constitutional provisions (apart from the neglect they have suffered in securing their economic and educational advancement through meaningfully formulated SCP and TsP, so as to reach the level of Equality with the Socially Advanced Castes, i.e., the non-SC, non-ST, non-SEdBC castes in all parameters of life, welfare and development this is another major issue about which I shall write to you separately). I request you to kindly resume the thread and pursue the process of Social Justice to its logical end, so that the SCs and ST do not continue to be left out, contrary to what Periyar and other such reformers envisioned. As a person who has been in the field of Social Justice for seven decades, I shall be happy to render any help or information or guidance you may need in fulfilling this task.

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