‘Amend law to include provision for rights of victims and witnesses’

Dalit groups in Rajasthan have demanded deletion of expressions such as “intent,” “on the ground” and “wilful” from various sections of the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, saying they give leeway to the police and judiciary to dilute cases of atrocities through “subjective or arbitrary interpretations” of the law.

Releasing a status report on the Act’s implementation in the State here over the week-end, Dalit activists said a new chapter should be added to the statute to deal with the rights of victims and witnesses, thereby explicitly granting various citizen rights to them in atrocity cases.

Besides, the Act should be amended to bring in all types of negligence by public servants at various stages in their handling of atrocity cases and punishment for offences under the law enhanced to bring it on par with the Indian Penal Code.

“Punishment for crimes against Dalits must be commensurate with the nature and gravity of the offences [so as] to ensure its deterrent effect,” said Centre for Dalit Rights patron P. L. Mimroth. The other group was the National Dalit Movement for Justice.

In their major findings and observations in the report, the Dalit groups pointed out that Rajasthan occupied second position in the top 10 atrocity-prone States in the country, with an increasing rate of 7.4 per cent.

The atrocity cases are often registered after a delay or not registered at all, investigation is kept pending for long, charge-sheet is not filed on time and cases are closed under the influence of dominant caste people or under political pressure. As a result, the acquittal rate is very high and the cases with conviction are few and far between.

The report cited 199 sample cases, among which 79 were closed as “fake” by the police. Only two convictions were ordered by the court, while acquittal was awarded in 13 cases and the rest were either pending in the court or were in the process of compromise at a crucial stage.

Dalit activists Satish Kumar, V. A. Ramesh Nathan and Rahul Singh also demanded appointment of a high-level committee to review the implementation of the SC/ST (PoA) Act.