Is the atrocities Act effective in delivering justice to the marginalised classes? Going by the numbers furnished by the police – which show less than 50 per cent of these cases proceeding to court – a complaint seeking invocation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is more often than not met with a B-report, that is, closed for lack of evidence.
According to the Mangalore City Police, out of a total of 72 cases filed under the Act, between 2010 and 2012 (till August), only 33 have been chargesheeted (or around 45 per cent of the cases), 33 closed, and the rest under investigation or sent to the courts without the Act being enforced.
Similar numbers are given by the district police: out of 95 cases registered in the same time frame under the Act, only 41, or around 43 per cent of the cases, were sent to the courts with the Act being enforced, 35 cases closed, while a further 14 cases have been sent to the court without the Act being mentioned.
“This percentage of chargesheeted cases is too low. It should be at least 80 per cent for Dalits to feel they could get justice,” said S.P. Anand, district convenor of the Karnataka Dalit Sangharsha Samiti (Ambedkar vada) who had raised the issue at a recent SC/ST meet with the city police.
He said in these cases, the power to chargesheet or B-Report the investigation was with the Assistant Commissioner of Police.
“In the State, certain sub-divisions the number of B-reports filed is negligible. Take Panambur sub-division for example: there was a rapid rise in B-reports after the ACP was transferred,” he alleged.
Mr. Anand attributed this to “pressure” as many of the atrocity cases were filed against “rich landlords and businessmen” who ill-treated or evicted the poor.
However, Superintendent of Police Abhishek Goyal said there was “misuse” of the Act, in the same way the law against dowry harassment was being misused.
Similarly, Manish Karbikar, Mangalore City Police Commissioner, said many of the cases “turn out to be false. Witnesses give contradictory statements, or the Atrocity Act is dropped as the accused had no prior knowledge of the caste of the victim. It is left entirely to the Investigation Officer, and since it is based on evidence, there is no question of increasing the number of cases chargesheeted,” he said.
Mr. Anand conceded that there was a degree of misuse of the Act: “Many a times, in fights between local groups or between landlords, an SC or ST person is bribed to file a case under the Act as it would entail stricter punishment.”
Recent examples of this, he said, was in Bellare when after a communal clash in a college, a Hindutva group used an ST student unrelated to the incident to file a counter-complaint; or, in Belthangady where atrocity cases were needlessly filed in what was a confrontation between the Congress and BJP workers.