Special Correspondent

JAIPUR: Dalit activists attending a State-level dialogue on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, here on Wednesday suggested several amendments to the Rules of 1995 framed under the legislation to ensure a prompt and fair probe into crimes against Dalits and render speedy justice to the victims of persecution.

Speakers at the dialogue, organised by the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights and other Dalit groups, expressed concern over the abysmally low conviction rate under the SC/ST Act and noted that no change in the condition of Dalits had been witnessed during the past 20 years of the statute being in force primarily due to its “weak implementation”.

The participants demanded that all offences under the Act be declared non-bailable and a statutory provision be made for time-bound investigation into the cases without any interference by the dominant castes, besides strict compliance with the rule to hold regular meetings of district-level vigilance and monitoring committees.

National Dalit Movement for Justice general secretary SDJM Prasad said though 3,000 cases were registered under the SC/ST Act in 2005 and 3,950 in 2006, none of them was accompanied by charges under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, which deals with untouchability. Besides, the provision for giving immediate compensation from a separate fund in the registered cases of Dalit atrocities is generally not complied with.

Centre for Dalit Rights chairperson R. K. Ankodia regretted that dignity of life and equal opportunities were not available to Dalits even after the enactment of the SC/ST Act “because of the anti-Dalit mind-set of those responsible for its implementation”.

Justice I. S. Israni, former judge of the Rajasthan High Court, said the senior police officers who should themselves go to the scene of offences under the Act for investigations, often send their subordinates: “This practice leads to shoddy probe and weakens the cases in the court, which gives the benefit of doubt to the accused.”

Supreme Court lawyer P. L. Mimroth said police investigations into offences against Dalits were heavily influenced by the perpetrators of atrocities belonging to higher castes, while the victims were intimidated and forced to withdraw their complaints.

The activists said the police should be instructed to register FIR under correct sections of the Act and extend protection to the Dalit victims and witnesses. The investigating agencies should also apprise the complainants of the progress in the case, filing of charge-sheet and trial in the court.

Former MP Than Singh, People’s Union for Civil Liberties State president Prem Krishna Sharma, Kathumar MLA Babulal Bairwa and educationist M.C. Khandela also addressed the dialogue.