“despite various measures to improve the socioeconomic conditions of SCs & STs, they remain vulnerable. They are denied a number of civil rights; they are subjected to various offences, indignities, humiliations and harassment. They have, in several brutal incidents, been deprived of their life and property. Serious atrocities are committed against them for various historical, social and economic reasons.”
The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to prevent atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The Act is popularly known as POA, the SC/ST Act, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or simply the Atrocities Act.
Article 17 of Indian Constitution seeks to abolish ‘untouchability’ and to forbid all such practices. It is basically a “statement of principle” that needs to be made operational with the ostensible objective to remove humiliation and multifaceted harassments meted to the Dalits and to ensure their fundamental and socio-economic, political, and cultural rights.
The statement of objects and reasons appended to the Bill while moving the same in the Parliament reads:-
The preamble of the Act also states that the Act is
“to prevent the commission of offences of atrocities against the members of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, to provide for Special Courts for the trial of such offences and for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
What does this law do?
This law does three things:
• It punishes crimes against people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
• It gives special protections and rights to victims.
• It sets up courts for fast completion of cases.
What sorts of crimes are punished?
• Some crimes under the IPC are given increased punishments under this law.
• Cruel and degrading crimes that occur very often against SC/ST communities, such as forcing them to eat cow dung, boycotting them socially etc. More than 20 such acts are punished under this law.
Do you have to have a caste-based intention to be punished under this law?
That is, do you have to commit the crime because someone belongs to an SC/ST?
• In most cases, a caste-based intention does not have to be proved. That is, it does not have to be proved that the accused person committed the crime for the reason that the victim belonged to a Scheduled Caste or Tribe. Only for three crimes, the intention has to establish.
The Timeline Of Bharat Bandh
The NDA government had filed a petition seeking review of the Supreme Court order diluting the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which protects marginalised communities against discrimination and atrocities.
In the review petition drafted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the Centre is likely to contend that the order will weaken the provisions of the Act, thereby reducing the fear of the law, which may result in more violations.
On March 20, the Supreme Court banned automatic arrests and registration of criminal cases under the SC/ST Act, triggering widespread criticism and outcry from the Dalit community.
The apex court said public servants can’t be prosecuted without the approval of the appointing authority, and private citizens too should be arrested only after an inquiry under the law.