Even as the SC and ST members of Parliament from the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) pressed upon the Government to seek review of the latest Supreme Court order on Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which effectively diluted the stringent provisions of the Act, there are signs that this Government may not be keen to challenge the order. The judgment by the two judge bench of Justices UU Lalit and AK Goel has in fact provided the ruling BJP and some of its allies like the Shiv Sena a much sought after legal alibi to dilute the SC/ST (PoA) Act.
The bench held that the SC/ST (PoA) Act had to be interpreted in a manner that "the law cannot be converted into a charter for exploitation or oppression by an unscrupulous person or by police for extraneous reasons against other citizens (read upper caste)". Putting a bar on arrests immediately after the registration of an FIR, the bench held that a person can be arrested only after the police conduct a preliminary enquiry into the complaint within seven days, that a person can be released on anticipatory bail unless a prima facie case of crimes or atrocities is made out, and in case of a public servant, prosecution can be carried out only after the appointing authority grants prior sanction.
Thus henceforth it will be well nigh impossible for the already persecuted Dalits and Adivasis to seek legal redressal for day-to-day harassment, insult and injury. This is significant in the context of the May, 2017 Shabirpur violence in which the Rajputs of neighbouring villages attacked the Dalits of Shabirpur village in the vicinity of Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. While Dalit firebrand leader Chandra Shekhar Azad who formed the Bhim Army of Dalits is still in jail, allegedly on bogus charges, all the Rajputs are out on bail more than a year after the violence.
Soon after assuming power, one of the first things the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi did was to set up a committee under its Raipur MP Ramesh Bais, which in its report submitted to Parliament in December, 2014 raised the issue of “misuse” of the SC/ST (PoA) Act and recommended necessary safeguards against it
Justices Lalit and Goel delivered another controversial judgment last July attempting to strike down the stringent clauses of Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code, enacted to protect women against widely prevalent cases of dowry harassment. They ruled that the account of the victim in such cases not be taken at face value and forbade arrests or coercive action against the accused in such complaints without ascertaining the veracity of the allegations. For that, the bench suggested the creation of family welfare committees in all states and ordained that “all such complaints received by the police or the magistrate must be referred to the family welfare committee and no action should be taken against the husband and the in-laws till the committee gave its report after interacting with the parties.” Already the woman facing physical and mental torture by her in-laws in her husband’s house is all alone with none, very often not even her parents, coming to her rescue. That is why Section 498 A was strengthened by lawmakers. The police too are mostly reluctant to act. After this, knowing the slow process of all such committees, it may become well nigh impossible for married women to seek legal redressal in dowry cases.
This dowry judgment is worth mentioning here because of a certain mindset which was evident yesterday when a good section of BJP and Shiv Sena MPs actually welcomed the Supreme Court judgment in the SC/ST (PoA) Act case. Outer Delhi BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri, already known for his obnoxious remarks against Muslims in Parliament, seemed beside himself with joy, stating, “This is a very good order. In fact the Supreme Court should also make changes in the provisions of sexual harassment cases. There are women who make money by misusing the provisions.”
Shiv Sena MP from Yavatmal-Washim Bhawama Gawali Patil also welcomed the order, the SC/ST (PoA) Act is misused both by the scheduled castes and general castes and claimed that “people have started using scheduled caste people as tools to take revenge from upper caste people.”
Thus except for the SC/ST MPs the prevalent mood in the BJP or rather Hindutva circles was to justify and laud the Supreme Court for coming to the relief and rescue of the upper castes. And not without reason for soon after assuming power, one of the first things the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi did was to set up a committee under its Raipur MP Ramesh Bais, which in its report submitted to Parliament in December, 2014 raised the issue of “misuse” of the SC/ST (PoA) Act and recommended necessary safeguards against it. The committee observed that, “the PoA Act being a special law, should be wholesome to the extent that it must contain an inbuilt provision for securing justice for those too who are falsely implicated with mala fide under it.” This implied that, if for any number of reasons a case of atrocity brought by say an SC/ST victim falls through in court, even because of complicity of the Police, then instead of the alleged violator being punished, the complainant would face action. Thus, discouraging complaints by SC/ST victims of atrocity by upper castes, as has happened in Shabirpur. Ironically another one time militant Dalit leader, BJP MP Udit Raj was also part of this committee.
Overall this reflects the upper caste patriarchal mindset of BJP non-SC/ST MPs who consider the provisions of SC/ST (PoA) Act or Section 498A as a constraint to continuance of the patriarchal order. Sadly the SC bench has encouraged those with medieval mindsets to hope to revert to the pre-modern era. That’s what BJP actually seeks, though it may not state this publicly for fear of alienating the large SC/ST constituency. But having secured such a ruling from the Supreme Court, it does not stand to reason that this Government would do anything to challenge this or even its earlier dowry order.