Two girls gangraped in Sirsa village; 3 booked – The Tribune
Man shot dead in broad daylight – The Tribune
Dalit group stages protest against ‘indifferent attitude’ of authorities – The Hindu
A promise ends in a riot – The Hindu
Children of a different law – The Hindu
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Two girls gangraped in
Sirsa village; 3 booked
Tribune News Service Sirsa, August 22
Two girls, one of them a Dalit, were allegedly gangraped by three youths who offered them a lift on their jeep when they were going to a coaching centre from a village near Rania in Sirsa.
Accused Amar Singh, Mange Ram and Kuldeep Singh allegedly took the girls to a room built in a field near Ellenabad and took turns to rape them. The police have booked the youths, who are at large, for gangrape as well as under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Tension prevails in a village near Rania since the alleged rapists belong to a dominant community while the girls are from poor families.
In their complaint, the girls, who are to appear in their matriculation examination from the open board, alleged that they were waiting at a bus stand at about 10 am on August 18 when the accused approached them on a jeep and offered them the lift.
“Instead of going towards Rania, they diverted the vehicle towards Ellenabad. When we tried to raise an alarm, they gagged us and threatened to kill us. They took us to a room built in a field and raped us after tying us with ropes,” the girls alleged.
They were later allegedly thrown on a roadside in an unconscious condition. Passersby noticed them lying unconscious and took them to their homes. They were later taken to the Rania police station where they recorded their statements in presence of a woman lawyer.
Ellenabad Deputy SP Kuldeep Beniwal said a case of gangrape and atrocities on Dalits was registered against the three accused. He said they would be arrested soon.
Man shot dead in broad daylight
Son was shot by rivals in 2012
Tribune News Service Ludhiana, August 22
Two assailants shot dead a 50-year-old safai karamchari in the Dhandari area early morning today. The deceased has been identified as Mange Lal, a resident of Balmiki Colony situated at the back of the PAU campus in the Rishi Nagar area. The police have booked seven persons in the murder case.
The incident took place at 7:30 am when Mange Lal was going to the factory at Sangam Chowk where he worked. When he reached on Dhandari Bridge, two motorcycle-borne persons came close to him and fired two shots at him. The victim was shot in the stomach and he fell down.
Soon, commuters gathered on the spot. On being informed, a PCR team reached the spot.
According to police officials, the victim told the police officials that “men of Sunil” attacked him. Rajinder Singh, Assistant Commissioner of Police (South), also reached the spot. The police said the victim died on the spot a few minutes after he was shot.
The victim was a complainant in the case pertaining to the murder of his son. Pinku, son of Mange Lal, was shot dead by the members of a gang in the Daba area in 2012. The police had booked Rakesh Kumar, alias Boxer, Deepak Kumar, alias Deepu, Sunny, alias Ladhu, Rinki, Jassa and Gagandeep in this regard. Sunil Pardhan from Shimlapuri was allegedly pressuring Mange Lal and his family to effect a compromise with the Pinku’s killers.
Rajinder Singh, Assistant Commissioner of Police, said: “From preliminary investigation, we have found that certain accused in the Pinku murder case are out on bail. They can manage contract killing. Before his death, the victim named Sunil Pardhan before the PCR team. So, we have booked all six persons who are accused in the Pinku’s murder case and Sunil.”
The police found that shots were fired from a countrymade pistol. A case has been registered under sections 302, 34, 35, 54 of the Arms Act at the Focal Point police station.
Narinder Bhargav, Deputy Commissioner of Police, said: “We have launched a manhunt to nab the accused. The attackers would be identified soon”.
Dalit group stages protest against ‘indifferent attitude’ of authorities
The Dalit Sene charged the district administration of indifferent attitude in providing due compensation to Dalit victims of atrocities.
It also charged the district police of weakening the cases pertaining to the atrocities on the Dalits by encouraging the offenders to file counter cases.
Members of the Dalit Sena, led by senior leader Hanumanth Yelasangi, who staged a protest demonstration in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s office here on Saturday, said that there were many instances wherein the police have failed to produce the witnesses in the cases of atrocities against Dalits, resulting in the acquittal of the accused.
There were several cases in which the police encouraged the offenders to file counter cases in the cases filed by Dalits under the Scheduled Caste and Tribe Atrocities (Prevention) Act, with an intention to intimidate Dalits who were victims of the atrocities, they said.
The sene, in a memorandum addressed to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, said that the Dalits have lost all confidence in him.
The memorandum pointed out a series of incidents in Kalaburagi district in which the Dalit victims were denied of the due compensation as per the Act.
A promise ends in a riot
The immediate provocation for the violence was the holding of a temple car festival, but the real issue is of social discrimination .
Nine days after she had delivered her second child, 23-year-old Banu was recuperating at her grandmother’s house in the ‘colony’ – the Dalit neighbourhood of Seshasamudram village – on August 15. But all that she can recall now is a mob attacking the front door with crow bars, stones and petrol bombs. “I was holding the door from inside to prevent them from breaking open. We just shut our mouths. They wanted to burn us down,” recalls Banu’s grandmother, still shaking with horror.
But, Banu and her grandmother are grateful that their house, a corner house on the main road, was next to a Vanniar’s. “Our neighbour was concerned that their house will also catch fire. They spared us,” she says.
These horrific events unfolded in Seshasamudram as Indians were celebrating 68 years of independence. The Vanniars of Seshasamudram village in Villupuram district wanted to prevent the Dalit community from asserting their right to take the temple-car procession through the main road of the village. As a last resort, they burned down the temple-car along with seven Dalit houses completely, went on a rampage destroying property, livestock and injuring many, including seven policemen on duty.
Police estimate that a 200-strong mob attacked the Dalit colony on Saturday evening as the Dalits were preparing for the temple festival scheduled on Sunday. “The attack was well-planned,” says Rajamanikkam, a middle-aged Dalit. The mob had cut off electricity supply by vandalising the transformer in the village. Armed with stones, crow bars, sticks, sickles and beer bottles filled with petrol, they simultaneously took positions on the top of terraces overlooking the colony.
Once the lights went off, they started throwing stones and petrol bombs inside the colony from atop, taking the police by surprise. Another group moved inside the colony and swiftly broke the tube lights and bulbs. They then systematically set the Dalits’ huts on fire.
“I saw men slamming our goats on the floor and running away with them. They wanted to destroy our property,” says middle-aged Vennila, who says that if not for the police, they would have lost more. “They took blows on our behalf,” she said.
Seeds of conflict
The seeds of this specific conflict were sown by Subramanian, a Vanniar, who belongs to Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhakam (DMDK). The Dalits say that he promised them that he will help them conduct the temple festival – a long-standing desire of Dalits –if they voted for him in the panchayat elections. “We supported him. After he won, we even paraded him pompously on a chariot,” said a local. With Subramanian contributing over one lakh towards the festival, each Dalit household had contributed Rs. 3500.
The Dalits had planned to take the deity on a temple-car around the Mariamman temple, which is situated on a small compound inside the colony. The total distance of this proposed procession could not be more than 175 metres, but the disputed stretch – the main road used by both Vanniars and Dalits – is less than 50 meters.
Severe opposition grew within the Vanniar community for conceding to the Dalit demand. The Dalits claim that Subramanian flipped and reneged on his promise after he realised that it would be disastrous for his political career to be portrayed as the ‘Vanniar who succumbed to Dalit pressure’. The Vanniars, who outnumber the Dalit families by at least 10 to one, soon swore to not allow the Dalits to go ahead with the plan.
In an effort to avoid another caste clash like what Dharmapuri witnessed in 2012, the local officials – Collector and others – had called for ‘peace talks’ involving all stake holders. This year, the Dalits were given the go-ahead to organise the temple car festival and were promised police protection.
As the deadlock continued, the tension between the two communities escalated, leading up to the festival on Sunday prompting the local administration to deploy a 40-man police force to conduct the festival without any drama.
On Saturday evening, they were taken by surprise when a 200-odd strong mob (some say 500), many of whom, Dalits claim, had returned from a meeting organised by Dr. S. Ramadoss’ Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in Kallakurichi.
“The women carried the stones in their sarees and took it to the terraces overlooking the colony so that their men can attack us. The men had bought petrol from the local shop run by a Chettiar, filled it in beer bottles and threw it inside,” says 45-year-old Arumugam, who works as a daily wage labourer.
“We were totally outnumbered,” says the inspector who has been stationed in the village to maintain calm. “Even school-going kids were throwing stones,” he says with disbelief.
As the violence continued into the night, the Dalits say that the Vanniars would have set the entire village on fire if not for a spell of heavy rain. For the rest of the night, the Dalits stayed without any protection as the police reinforcements arrived only on Sunday morning.
The morning after revealed that at least seven Dalit huts were completely destroyed and at least 7 policemen were injured by the mob including the Villupuram SP, Narendra Nair. Most people in the colony had lost their hard-earned property – some almost everything.
Saravanan, who works as a daily wage labourer in Kerala, managed to flee with his three-month old child in the nick of time, leaving all his official documents, clothes, gold and wads of cash, which he had saved up to build a house. “We don’t have a ration card, voters ID…no bonafides are with me. We haven’t changed clothes for the last 5 days,” he says.
But Vanniars also have their tales of woe. On Sunday morning, hundreds of policemen swooped into Vanniar side of village and indulged in a series of ‘shock and awe’ raids, arresting Vanniar men. “It didn’t matter who they were as long as they were Vanniar men. Even those who had just attended a funeral or were visiting a relative were forced out of the house and loaded into the van,” says Thaiyal Nayagi, a Vanniar coolie worker.
“Bikes, motors and tractors were broken. Even cows and bulls weren’t spared. If we resisted them or if the men weren’t there at home, they threatened to arrest us as well,” says 37-year-old Rajalakshmi.
It was evident that the Vanniar men of Seshasamudram were missing. The police say that the men might have fled the village or were hiding in the sugarcane fields nearby. Several houses on the two main streets – Raja street and Pullaiyar Koil street – of the village remained locked.
The immediate provocation for the violence was the holding of a temple car festival, but the real issue is of social discrimination against the Dalits and the caste-bias of the Vanniar community.
“It’s becoming difficult to live in this village,” says Solaiamma, who, she says, is old enough to be the mother of young men who took part in the attack but still that didn’t stop them from chasing her away.
“The first house that was burnt down was that of the man who married a Vanniar girl from another village. But how could they even destroy the temple-car of Amman,” she asks with tears in her eyes.
More than a dozen Vanniar women made it clear that they will never agree to let the Dalits take the temple-car through the main road. “When no Vanniar will ever pray or agree to do the ‘arthi’ to the deity, why should it be taken through this road? Let them do whatever they want inside their colony,” they said in unison.
The Dalits are dejected. “Please tell the government to relocate us to another place where there are no caste Hindus. We have been told that the police will not provide protection forever and that they will teach us a lesson,” says Unnamalai (40), who lives in the colony.
Camaraderie between the two working class castes is impossible as long as one caste insists on retaining hereditary social privileges. While most Dalits in the village say that the government must give them relief and help them relocate, the Vanniar women say that the ‘solution’ to the problem lies in Dalits giving up their demand.
Thaiyal Nayagi, who forcefully spoke about how Dalits are crossing the red lines on a daily basis and threatening the closely knit Vanniar community, says: “They rudely ask us, ‘Is the blood running in your veins different from that running in mine?’ Should we just give up on everything and invite them into our living room?”
With such strong casteist feelings, another bout of violence in another place on another issue is waiting to happen.
Children of a different law
A recent sting video shows the men acquitted in the Laxmanpur Bathe case boasting about the same massacre. Will the passing of the Prevention of Atrocities (Amendment) Bill finally change the way justice is delivered to Dalits?
On the night of December 1, 1997, in Laxmanpur Bathe, a village in Bihar’s Arwal district 90 km from Patna, 58 Dalits were slaughtered by a gang of dominant caste men that went by the name of Ranvir Sena. One of the worst instances of caste violence in independent India, the then President K.R. Narayanan called it a “national shame”.
For the next 12 years, this atrocity wound its way through the tortuous intestines of the Indian judicial system. Finally, on April 7, 2010, a Sessions Court sentenced 16 of the 46 accused to death, and 10 more to life imprisonment. Three years later, on October 9, 2013, the Patna High Court acquitted all the 26 who had been convicted, citing lack of evidence. Narayanan was no longer alive by then. So we don’t know what he might have said about the way our criminal justice system handled this national shame.
Earlier this week, the investigative news portal Cobrapost released a video. In it, the very members of the Ranvir Sena who had been acquitted by the Patna High Court are seen boasting about their murderous exploits, including how they executed the massacre in Laxmanpur Bathe. The emergence of this video has two implications.
First, it suggests that lack of evidence – though cited often by our courts — may not be the real reason why cases of caste atrocity almost never end in convictions, or if they do, don’t survive the appeals process. It is clear that evidence is available for those serious about finding it.
Second, the pattern of interminable delays in trial proceedings, followed by conviction by a lower court (though rarely under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989), followed by acquittal at the High Court, has become too glaring to be ignored any longer, especially in the light of the Cobrapost video, which is effectively an 80-minute commercial that advertises guaranteed impunity for caste atrocities in India.
One could easily cite several cases that fit the Laxmanpur Bathe trajectory. For instance, in the Bathani Tola massacre of 1996, 21 Scheduled Caste (SC) and Muslim farm labourers were killed by dominant caste landlords. The trial court convicted 23. The High Court set aside the convictions.
In the Nagari Bazaar massacre of 1998 in which 10 Dalits were killed, the trial court convicted 11. The High Court set aside the convictions. In the Miyapur massacre of 2000, 34 SC and Backward Class (BC) labourers were killed. Nine landlords were convicted by the lower court. All were acquitted by the High Court.
This trend goes back to the Kilvenmani massacre of 1968, in which 44 Dalits were killed by upper caste landlords. The lower court found eight of the 23 accused guilty. The Madras High Court acquitted everyone.
Clearly, from the perspective of Dalit victims, the Indian criminal justice system has failed to deliver. Yet the only recourse open to them seems to be the legal one.
India has seen several pieces of legislation enacted for the express purpose of deterring caste-based violence. We began by abolishing the primal atrocity of untouchability under Article 17 of the Constitution. Since it wouldn’t get abolished, however, we enacted the Untouchability (Offenses) Act, 1955. This was found to be not stringent enough, so it was amended and became the Protection of Civil Rights Act (PCR), 1955. The PCR Act was still not effective in protecting SCs from caste violence. So we made the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST POA Act).
It may be noted that all but one of the atrocities cited above took place after the 1989 POA Act was enacted. So this legislation too hasn’t been effective, as its conviction rate is also abysmal.
The solution? Another legislation: the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2015 (henceforth the Amendment Bill).
To deter caste atrocities
According to Ramesh Nathan of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), the 1989 SC/ST POA Act did not have answers to several implementation-related problems.
Describing the experience of Dalit victims who sought redress through this law, Mr. Nathan says, “In most cases, the police would not file FIRs, or do so under the wrong section. The accused are not arrested on time. The investigations are not done on time. The charge sheets are not filed on time. Compensation to victims is not given on time.”
Apart from these, other problems included the frequent filing of counter-cases against Dalit victims, thereby forcing them into a “compromise” with the accused. According to D. Shyam Babu, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a common stratagem adopted by the police is to “turn every atrocity into a group clash”, and file cases against both Dalits and upper caste aggressors.” This would automatically ensure that the POA Act would not be applicable.
Mr. Babu adds that typically the police, tasked with maintaining law and order, would put the onus on the Dalit. “If a Dalit groom wanted to ride a horse or a bike, they would say to him, ‘Why do you want to provoke?’ Or ‘Why not take a different route?’ Given that Dalits are a minority in many rural communities, the police are not really going to risk a law and order situation just so that SCs can exercise their equal rights.”
It is to address these problems with the 1989 legislation that Dalit human rights organisations, in consultation with Adivasi rights groups, came up with the draft Amendment Bill, which they submitted to the government in 2010. The UPA-II, however, failed to pass it, and notified it as an ordinance in March 2014.
Earlier this month, the NDA government finally passed the SC/ST POA Amendment Bill, 2015 in the Lok Sabha. The Bill’s provisions are virtually the same as the ordinance passed by UPA-II. It needs to be passed by the Rajya Sabha and notified by the government in order to become law.
Will it make a difference?
The big question is: will this latest legislative salvo against caste atrocities fare any better than its predecessors? Or will it once again, like the 1989 Act, be subverted by a criminal justice system that is itself steeped in caste prejudice?
Dalit activists are cautiously optimistic. Mr. Nathan explains that their hopes stem specifically from four aspects of the newly amended law.
First, the 1989 POA Act had merely provided for re-designating existing courts as special courts for prosecution of crimes under the POA Act. This meant that these “special courts” were also burdened with non-atrocity cases, as a result of which atrocity cases began to pile up, defeating the very purpose of a “special court”.
The Amendment Bill, however, mandates the setting up of “exclusive special courts” that will only try offences under the POA Act. Eliminating the bottleneck created by the burden of non-atrocity cases is expected to ensure speedier completion of trials.
Second, the Amendment Bill extends the roster of punishable offences to include new ones hitherto not covered, such as garlanding with chappals, defiling objects sacred to SC/STs, forced tonsuring of head, etc. The number of casteist offences that did not have a section under which prosecution could be initiated has thus been minimised.
Third, to address the problem of endless delays, the Amendment mandates that trials must be completed within two months, “as far as possible”.
Finally, the Bill defines the content of “wilful negligence” by public servants, which had been left vague in the 1989 legislation. It specifies, for instance, that the duties whose negligence would attract penal provisions under the POA Act include not registering a FIR under the Act, not reading out to the victims the information given orally and recorded in writing, not registering a FIR under the appropriate sections of the Act, and so on.
The overall expectation from the Amendment Bill is that it will address the two major challenges for SC/STs seeking justice: endless delays, and the police either refusing to co-operate or colluding with the non-SC accused.
The law and its limitations
While the activists who have campaigned for this legislation remain hopeful that it will empower them in the battle to protect SC/STs from atrocities, they are also conscious of its limitations, both social and juridical.
At the social level, the Bill follows the definition of SCs as laid down in the Constitution. This means that only Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits are recognised as SCs under the law. Thus, Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims will not benefit from it. This is a serious flaw as Dalits from other faiths also face caste violence. For instance, the victims of the infamous Karamchedu massacre of 1985 included Dalit Christians.
Says Mr. Nathan, “We wanted to expand the law to include Muslims and Christians. But the feedback we received from the government was that since this needs a constitutional amendment, it could take a long time. So even this proposed amendment would get delayed. So we decided to take one step at a time.”
Second, the Bill cannot help migrant Dalits either, since the legal definitions of SCs are geographically grounded, linking specific castes to specific States and districts.
These shortcomings apart, legal experts are of the view that even juridically, this legislation may not yield a dramatic change in legal outcomes — at least not in the short term. Saurav Datta, a criminal justice reforms activist, elaborates. “What has been the main reason why convictions don’t happen in cases of caste atrocities? It is because our courts have steadfastly refused to see caste prejudice or caste hatred as a key component of what we call the mens rea or criminal intention. Take the 2006 Khairlanji massacre, for example. The courts refused to accept that the brutalities inflicted were because of caste. There were convictions, but they were for murder, not for any offence under the POA Act.”
The law makes a distinction between a crime and an atrocity: a crime is any act punishable by law; but an atrocity denotes “the quality of being shockingly cruel and inhumane”. It also implies “any offence under the IPC committed against SCs by non-SC persons”. Caste considerations as a motive are “not necessary to make such an offence an atrocity.”
Yet, as Mr. Datta points out, the Indian judiciary, including the Supreme Court, has repeatedly chosen to treat atrocities rooted in caste like any ‘normal’ crime under the IPC. “If an SC woman is raped by a non-SC, the courts might give a conviction for rape. But that still doesn’t recognise the caste origin of the atrocity — in which case, it doesn’t really help the Dalit cause.”
Everyone agrees that the best thing about this Bill is that it will make it easier for Dalits to file cases. “But when prosecution happens, will the cases stand in court? Or will we see cases simply piling up?” asks Mr. Datta. “Only when this law yields a precedent or two of successful prosecutions in the higher courts will the Dalits finally have something concrete. For this to happen, the judiciary must first make a conscious effort to rid itself of caste prejudice.”
Professor G. Mohan Gopal, director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies, presents a different view. “It won’t be easy to get the new Bill implemented in its spirit,” he admits. “But it is nevertheless an important tool from the perspective of Dalit rights. It has given the Dalits a useful lever to mobilise around, and deepen their struggle. As their movement gains in strength, the law’s implementation will also gradually improve.”
All said and done, laws alone do not deter atrocities; convictions do. The SC/ST POA Amendment Bill, 2015 is a step in the right direction. But Dalit rights activists and civil society have their task cut out to make the judiciary and the state responsive to this legislation. A lot will depend on their success in sensitising the public to the insidious nature and wide prevalence of caste prejudice and privilege.
News monitored by AMRESH & AJEET