Politics over caste

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Politics over caste

Politicisation of Supreme Court decision to prevent misuse of the SC/ST Act is complete

Legally, especially in terms of the Constitutional rights of individual citizens of India, there is little to quibble room on the Supreme Court order of March 20 which has paved the way for anticipatory bail to offenders under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and introduced safeguards in an attempt to weed out false and/or frivolous complaint at the threshold point of filing of a complaint under the Act. The Court has not in any way interfered in the intent, provisions or aims of the Act which is a progressive and much-needed legal instrument to prevent atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; it has only, after detecting rampant misuse of the provisions for which official records are available with the National Crime Records Bureau tried to ensure that the warp and woof group politics does not trump individual rights. The so-called "dilution" of the Act, however, has sparked a violent, nationwide agitation in which at least nine persons lost their lives in a single day on Monday with all political parties including the ruling BJP taking a stand against the apex court verdict. Politics, we predict, will win over logic yet again in this benighted land.

The primary argument against the Court order is that all laws are subject to misuse but that doesn't mean we should do away with the law. This is a perfectly valid argument and one which we endorse. But when the data suggests widespread and cynical use of the justifiably harsh provisions of an Act to prosecute bigoted individuals who would dare insult and/or oppress in any way, manner of form our fellow citizens using their “caste” as a marker, and the highest law court in the land after due deliberation tweaks the mode of enactment of certain provisions of the Act which were specifically misused to strike a balance between the rights of an accused and the need to ensure protection from hate crimes to members of a historically oppressed community which is what an atrocity under the Act amounts to, all political parties and interest groups need to be more circumspect. It is perfectly understandable, however, given the cynical times we live in and with the General Election fast-approaching, no political party will listen to sober advice. That is par for the course. But it is still our duty to flag a vital issue emanating out of Monday's Bharat Bandh agitation called by various SC/ST groups prima facie backed by different political parties in different States.

The violence which resulted in nine deaths including six in Madhya Pradesh and one in Rajasthan, both Assembly poll-bound States ruled by the BJP, apart from two in Uttar Pradesh where the Bahujan Samaj Party has its strongest base, should be a matter of grave concern for thinking, peaceful citizens including leading Dalit intellectuals and leaders. To be assertive in protesting an issue one feels strongly about is one thing, indulging in an orgy of violence, arson and wanton destruction of public property quite another. Any justification of such acts in the name of “an expression of rage”, however qualified, only empowers the anti-nationals who indulge in atrocities against members of the SC/ST communities. That some legal-activists, academic-activists and media-activists have accused the Supreme Court of having a “caste bias” because they disagree with its decision is the thin edge of the wedge for rule of law in India. Admitting the Government's review petition filed against the March 20 order on Tuesday, the Court iterated that there has been no dilution of the Act and the innocent must be protected, while issuing notices to all parties and holding it will take up the issue of revisiting its order in 10 days' time. Hopefully, all sides will use this time to think about how to de-politicise the situation rather than raise the pitch for electoral gains.

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