Maratha Marches: Disturbing echoes of the Silent Protests - III
 Source : News Bharati English  Date : 04-Nov-2016

Kopardi rape and the horrible killing with mutilation of a Maratha young girl was the trigger for these Marches. It had to inevitably lead to the discussions on the Atrocity Act. Initially, it was made to appear that the Marches demanded the repeal of this act. That for some days created an antagonistic fervor against the Marches, soon to be revealed that not repeal but amendments to the act were necessary. That was the demand.

Pundits may debate if this was a coming down by the leaderless Marches. Whatever may be the case but something all of us need to realize is restricting the demand to amend this act is a strong indication of the maturity, evenness and a non-discriminatory approach to law looking at socially grave issues. The absence of hatred that I have mentioned in the earlier part is visible in all the discussions which subsequently occurred.

The same maturity was reflected in non-political, unaffiliated Dalit individuals when questioned. Each one agreed to the right of individuals for peaceful and lawful ways to demonstrate for what they may see as an injustice. This is one of the greatest indications of the maturity of the democratic system, the law of rule and the constitution. These Dalits also made it clear they are as angry about Kopardi and demanded that the culprits should be maximally punished. They are as much pained as the Marathas.

It was said that if Kopardi was the issue why the other social sections were also not called to join them which they would have willingly done. Why restrict it to Marathas? This is a sign of what the reservations and the subsequent change in the life it has caused among those who received it. As pointed out earlier whether it was globalization, Mandal or reservation policies so long, these positive trends mentioned above were the long term results of those processes now becoming manifest. Thirty years back this moderation and clear vision would have been a bit farfetched to expect.

How does the Atrocity Act operate on the ground?

There are 186,000 cases under atrocities act in the courts. 119,520 are still pending. In Maharashtra 7395 cases have been given the verdict. Only 59 convictions occurred. That the conviction rate is so low is matter of anger for some “Established” Dalit protagonists. The Maratha lobby feels there is no doubt that it is being misused. In the local village-level, politics within the ‘Savarna’ or forward community groups who are fighting for power within it, using Atrocity Act is not uncommon, among other political maneuvers.

This is more likely to happen during the election time. Thus, even the ‘Savarnas’ misuse it. They may use / force their Dalit farm labor to use the Atrocity Act. People called ‘Dalals’ or intermediaries from that among the Dalit Communities have used Atrocity Act as a profession to make huge money as a youth said. It is commonly used to create fear and threat. The strife at the village levels is between the Wadi Marathas and Dalits harassed by the Gadi Marathas making their life miserable for decades. There are 59 groups or castes in the reserved categories. Only one caste uses the atrocities act to the extent of 99%.

The reasons for such low rates of conviction are not far to find. The most common reason cited is the failure of the witnesses who claim to have been the victims of the atrocity to stand up in the court. In 95% of cases, without the conviction, this is the reason. The witness may turn hostile or is lured into becoming hostile is another reason for failure. If the police force who investigates the cases (if they are among the ‘Savarnas’) does not work it properly to save their brethren could be a factor, not surprising. Dalits, especially the poor uneducated, do not know much about the Atrocity Act. And finally, it is our legal and court system. It operates on the principle that the technicalities are paramount against the process of justice which they have no problem if it suffers.  

What do the Marathas have to say about the Atrocity Act?

Below I will discuss the concrete suggestions to improve the act. This will give me a chance to discuss and defend or oppose the same. But more importantly, it will give me a clear view about the hidden human emotions, boiling within, its expressions and what they actually mean. The first is an emphatic denial of scrapping the Atrocity Act.

This, they perceive to be the correct attitude mainly because this will make them look good socially upholding a just cause. It recognizes that for generations the other communities have suffered from Atrocities from the higher castes for which there was no protection. To accept this history sincerely and in an unashamed manner could have looked like a bog blow to the sense of honor for Maratha Community. They have taken it in the stride and rode over it calmly. These are big gains which all of us including Dalits should understand. 

To accept this history sincerely and in an unashamed manner could have looked like a bog blow to the sense of honor for Maratha Community. They have taken it in the stride and rode over it calmly. These are big gains which all of us including Dalits should understand. 

Several amendments suggested / demanded in the Atrocity Act can be listed below and what effects it will have.

Article 4 makes it compulsory for the Police Authorities to register a complaint once brought to them. It is compounded by the penalty they get for not doing it. As a process even when higher authorities like DSP are supposed to investigate the circumstances the bias gets established even before it is found whether the complaint is genuine. The one against whom it is slammed even when not guilty loses his honor permanently. This is also the reason why false case numbers are so high.

As a process even when higher authorities like DSP are supposed to investigate the circumstances the bias gets established even before it is found whether the complaint is genuine. The one against whom it is slammed even when not guilty loses his honor permanently. This is also the reason why false case numbers are so high.

The whole point of this act has rested on the premise that even the genuine cases of atrocities against lower castes do not get registered and culprits are not brought to justice. Asking for the registration after due preliminary removes the protective cover given to the weak against the strong. It is going back to square 1. There is, however, a moot point to it. Has the situation on the ground not changed in the last 26 years that the act is in place? It indicates that the antagonistic forces are not as unbalanced today as they were earlier.

The other provision that once the offence is registered there is no provision for bail, forget the anticipatory bail. Even the SC cannot give bail. The same logic given above applies to this demand or objection as well. It is pointed out that the articles in other acts say rape also has a provision for anticipatory bail why not here?

 

The other elements of the operational aspects of the law can be summarized briefly below. If a person from the lower castes lodges a complaint the police record the statements of the plaintiff but not of the defendant or neutral persons from the higher communities. Either there is no provision for this procedure or at least it does not happen on the ground.

There are some outdated and obsolete elements like common sources of water to utilize which should be deleted. The act and the situation should be reviewed every five years as Nani Palkhiwala had argued in the highest court many years ago. The compensation to the sufferer should be given only if there is a conviction. The compensation once given cannot be taken back if the plaintiff defects or becomes hostile later. Hence the provision for it only on conviction! There should be provisions in the act for the court to act against or punish false witnesses in false cases. CRPC has such provisions. Why should this act also not have it?

The compensation once given cannot be taken back if the plaintiff defects or becomes hostile later. Hence the provision for it only on conviction! There should be provisions in the act for the court to act against or punish false witnesses in false cases. CRPC has such provisions. Why should this act also not have it?

There are objections which are far more fundamental and worth considering. The background fact that they are being raised 26 years after the act has come into existence should give it some credence that they are for the betterment of the society and not to get back the freedom to do all the atrocities they were allegedly doing over a millennium. The first such objection is that the act is unconstitutional because under our system a law should be commonly applicable to all; ie Uniform Code. How can a law be made that is applicable in the case of a single community?

All such laws which are caste based or caste-related should be scrapped. To refer to a wider context, was the sinister law which went with the intention of protection of minority communities against the majority. It was resisted so fiercely since it gave a similar handle to minority communities to torture as and when its whim and fancy would dictate, majority community members? There was plain appeasement for political gains and that was the real reason for opposition.

Like in the atrocity act there was no case for social inequality or serious injustice over a millennium which had to be stopped. The situation is vastly different today. There are already enough and more laws to punish the guilty. Why make this single stand alone? The absolute jurisdiction over making any changes is invested with the central government. It is said that any change will have a constitutional amendment. There should be some way the states can make the changes they want.

By and large, these articles provide a picture of what is seen in the state of Maharashtra. The analysis may not be applicable in toto to all other provinces but it can serve as a template or a scaffold on which the situation could be analyzed and improved there.

The maturity of thinking, the awareness of values of equality, fraternal feelings, economic emancipation softening the sharp attitudes towards the enemy groups, is very much visible. There is prudence, fairness, temperance in the discussions and consideration of justice to all people is visible. Long contact between the concerned communities in equable economic circumstances for decades now no doubt is responsible for softening the attitudes.    

The Conclusions:     

The rapid and high degree of development in agrarian sector stands out as the single remedy. If results are seen in the next couple of years even at the cost of the inflationary spiral which it may start, would be worthwhile. The foremost and immediate are two – elimination of the middlemen, as high a minimum support price across the year as can be given. This will take a couple of years to show the results. Meanwhile one could make atrocity act more relevant. One may make the process of the reservation more rational. That actually means only one thing. Change the basis to economic, social and educational backwardness as the criterion for reservation for an individual and not as a caste, irrespective of who gets it. That would be the shortest way to improve the conditions within a period of a decade or so.

                                                                   (Concluded)