Belying the current climate of political polarisation, one issue that’s witnessing bipartisan support in Parliament is the effort to overturn the Supreme Court’s dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The apex court in March had ruled regarding the misuse of the Act, prescribing that there wouldn’t be any automatic arrests, and that preliminary inquiries would be carried out before lodging FIRs. It had also introduced the provision of anticipatory bail under the law. This was done in light of NCRB data that 15-16% of the total complaints filed in 2015 under the Act were found to be false and out of the cases disposed of by courts 75% had resulted in acquittals or withdrawals.
However, the apex court decision upset Dalit legislators and social groups.Government now wants to bring in an amendment in the current session of Parliament to overturn the Supreme Court order, while opposition parties contend that an ordinance to this effect should have been brought months ago. Clearly, both camps are vying for Dalit votes here, especially in light of upcoming elections. But stringent laws that are frequently misused defeat the aim of justice. Misuse of the SC/ST Act can ironically reinforce caste hate.
Understandably, there are concerns that given how deep-rooted the caste system is in this country, marginalised Dalits may not get their grievances redressed by prejudiced upper-caste policemen. But this should be addressed through police reforms. Police forces need to be sensitised about caste atrocities and their capacities expanded to take action in such cases. In that sense, enacting harsh laws is the easy way out. Only heavy lifting in the form of police reforms can prevent both – atrocities against Dalits and misuse of law. That’s the path to true justice.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.