Amidst debates on the dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, a family in Odisha struggles to bring their ‘upper’ caste perpetrator to task.
The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 stirred quite a storm in the country earlier this year. In March, the Supreme Court passed an order directing that no public servant could be arrested under the Act without an approval from the appointing authority and a non-public servant’s arrest would require an approval from the Senior Superintendent of Police of the district. The court also removed the absolute bar on anticipatory bail in cases under the Act. The order saw countrywide protests from Dalit and Adivasi groups, following which the Parliament amended the Act, reversing the court’s order.
When the Supreme Court had passed the order, it had done so to curb alleged misuse of the Act. But in reality, powerful ‘upper’ caste communities often seem to be above the law, and conditions like conducting a preliminary enquiry only emboldens them.
Community Correspondent Anupama Sathy explains how this unfolds through her own family’s story, “On April 25 2017, an ‘upper’ caste man came to our house and beat up my father and my brother. My neighbour was sexually assaulted by the same person and her husband beaten up too.”
Anupama, an activist working on ending caste-based violence herself, brought the issue to the notice of the local media and also registered a police case under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
But since then, over the course of one a half years, monetary compensation guaranteed to them on filing a complaint under the Act is the only respite Anupama and her neighbour’s family has received. No charge sheet has been filed, the accused are still at large, and the aggrieved families continue live with a sense of fear and injustice.
“The police did not even register a case when we first approached them, they only did so when members of our panchayat pressurised them to. They did not even give us a copy of the complaint until three days later”, says Anupama
Anupama and her neighbour Pratima Sathy approached several government authorities, and were let down at each level. After the local police station, they also went to the Superintendent of Police and the Deputy Superintendent of Police, along with the Additional Director General of Police. However, none of the authorities took any concrete steps at that time.
“We went to the Odisha Women’s Commission and to the State Human Rights Commission. We waited at the Human Rights Commission office from 10am to 5pm but no authority met us and we had to return extremely disappointed,” says Pratima.
Video Volunteers then wrote to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes office in Kolkata, following which the Commission directed the Odisha Police to take action. The case was investigated by the Additional Superintendent of Police of Paradeep, and subsequently, a charge sheet filed submitted and an arrest warrant issued for Kailash Chandra Nayak, the main accused. However, the police let him out on bail merely a day after his arrest.
The perpetrator in the case is an ‘upper’ caste man with political connections, making it all the more difficult for Anupama, Pratima and their families. And their case is not an anomaly, especially going by the national-level conviction rates under the Act. In 2016, which is when the latest data is available from, the rate of conviction was only 25.8 percent.
In such a grim scenario, it is shocking that the Supreme Court passed an order that amounts to making both complaint and conviction even more difficult. Even now, when the order has been reversed by the Amendment Act, public interest litigations challenging the amendment are waiting to be heard in the top court, while justice eludes those whom the law was designed to protect.
Video by Community Correspondent Anupama Sathy
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team