Serious lack of accountability for hate crimes against marginalized communities of India

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By KC Sachin*

It is extremely dangerous to be a Dalit in India. In the early hours of 20 May 2018, Mukesh Vaniya was flogged to death. His crime? Revealing his Dalit identity and then refusing to clean and collect scraps as ordered to by complete strangers. The act was captured on video and widely circulated. Mukesh was tied to a gate and beaten repeatedly by multiple men. His wife was also allegedly assaulted and harassed.

On 10 June, in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, three Dalit adolescents were harassed for playing in a pool that is ‘reserved’ for the upper castes. They were stripped naked, beaten brutally and paraded around the village as a reminder that even children must adhere to the rules of the caste system.

Why did Mukesh Vaniya and those three young boys pay such a harsh price? Perhaps because they were born as Dalits in a country where caste rules reign supreme. The historic marginalization faced by Dalits in India often gives rise to incidents such as these, which chillingly embody the nature and elements of what constitutes a hate crime.

The term ‘hate crime’ is generally applied to criminal acts against people based on their real or perceived membership of a particular group, such as caste, religion or ethnicity.

The National Crime Records Bureau of India does not record hate crimes as a separate offence. While crimes perpetrated against Dalits and Adivasis identity are recorded under progressive legislation like The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, a  vast majority of hate crimes are neither recognised nor recorded.

Recently, the National Crime Records Bureau reported that it will publish data on mob lynchings in its ‘Crime in India 2017’ report. However, no provision has been made to record underlying discriminatory motives in cases of mob lynching. A metric to adequately measure crimes targeting a person’s identity or their real or perceived membership of a particular group is currently non-existent.

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There are instances where individual incidents of hate crimes receive substantial media attention, cause public outrage and force the government to take action. However, most incidents of hate crimes, spread over multiple states and time periods, are simply forgotten or routinely ignored. The news of a Dalit being beaten for breaking a caste norm or  mob lynching of a Muslim based on rumours of cow-slaughter, more often than not, fails to capture the attention of both the public and the government. These are treated as isolated incidents, and deemed unconnected to the systemic marginalization that prevails in society.

It is important that we recognise that all such crimes are a cause and consequence of systemic oppression, marginalization and inequality. However, since incidents of hate crimes in India are not systematically recorded by the government, there is an obvious data void on the prevalence of such crimes. . ‘Halt the Hate’ website of Amnesty International India is attempting to rectify this lack of data. By compiling and analyzing reports in Hindi and English media, over the course of the first six months of 2018, Amnesty International India has been able to record 100 alleged cases of hate crimes.

Of all the incidents of alleged hate crimes recorded this year, the highest number of crimes were committed against Dalits (67), second against Muslims (22), and followed by those against Christians, transgender people, Adivasis and others.

Discriminatory motives behind the alleged hate crimes recorded this year  were based on caste (67), religion (28), and gender (34). Ten recorded incidents were related to cow vigilantism.

While the data on the website captures only a fraction of the crimes committed across the country, it highlights the glaringly obvious patterns of discrimination prevalent in this country. What is certain is that hate crimes and the demonization they represent are a gross violation of human rights, especially the right to equality.

The first step to preventing the occurrence of hate crimes is recognising and recording them as a separate offence. Recording hate crimes separately is essential for effective investigation, obtaining redress, and devising better policies to prevent hate crimes. The next step is ensuring justice and accountability of all in cases of hate crimes.

However, at present there exists a serious lack of accountability for hate crimes perpetrated against marginalized communities. Therefore, until the state records hate crimes as a separate offence and makes the protection of marginalized communities a priority, hate crimes will remain a grave problem in India.

*Source: Amnesty International India

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