Cases deposed at National Tribunal reveal new forms of discrimination against SCs and STs

In Gujarat’s Mehsana district, Dalits cannot sell milk to cooperatives as it comes from ‘Dalit’ cows; in Rajasthan’s Ajmer, a Dalit woman is branded a witch, beaten and ostracised from the village; in Odisha’s Kandhamal, a Dalit girl was trafficked for sex and in Haryana, minor Dalit girls are gang raped every other day by dominant or upper caste men.

Each time these victims of caste atrocities tried to register a complaint, they were threatened, coerced and counter cases were slapped against not only them but also civil society organisations and lawyers working with them. Medical reports of rape survivors were routinely fudged and the police refused to register appropriate FIRs. The violence committed on Dalit women’s bodies was gruesome, to say the least.

These facts came to light when victims of 45 such cases, mostly Dalit women from nine States across the country, deposed before an eight-member jury of a National tribunal over two days in the Capital.

After listening to the cases, jury member Farah Naqvi, National Advisory Council said these stories were a wake up call. “I would be terrified to fight the battles these women have taken up. Let’s not tiptoe around this or try to be polite; we are a casteist society, deeply embedded in caste, class and community structures. We have to say loudly and without shame that our police, institutions and administration are casteist. If you are casteist, keep your poison to yourself. Do not poison your profession with it. The bottom line has to be accountability and we need to first fix it. Then begins the longer battle of ridding our society of casteism,” she said.

Lawyer Henri Tiphagne of the People’s Watch, another jury member, spoke about the conspiracy of silence that officials, medical personnel, public prosecutors practised. He said their combined callousness and nexusmarginalised and pushed all these victims to the periphery.

In the context of the discourse around rape in the country, he said it was important to take cognisance of the fact that violence against Dalit women was of a ‘special’ kind.

There is wanton negligence of officials at all levels — right from constabulary to superintendent — and there has been a failure of proper implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, said Asha Kowtal of All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch.

“The SC/ST Act should undergo a change to take into account new forms of discrimination that are coming up: in NREGA, health facilities, contracts, tenders and land distribution. Dalit Christians in Kandhamal are unable to take recourse to the Act and they must be brought within its ambit. National and State human rights institutions are either insensitive or don’t have resources to take up these cases,” said Henri, adding that the law proceeds as if the victim does not exist. The tribunal was organised by AIDMAM.