Uproar over Dalit rights: SC sticks to SC/ST Atrocities Act judgement

Protestors during a strike in Ghaziabad . Photo: PTI
The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to modify its judgment on the SC/ST Atrocities Act but posted the review petition, moved by the central government,for full hearing after 10 days. Meanwhile, the parties and interveners in the original case can file written submissions. The court did not pass any final order.

However, the government has been criticised by the opposition parties, Dalit organisations, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP's) allies and its Dalit leadership. It has been criticised for not filing the review petition earlier, and is now being asked to bring an ordinance in Parliament.

In the Lok Sabha, Home Minister Rajnath Singh acknowledged the widespread anger among people at the March 20 Supreme Court order, which made them take to the streets on Monday. At least eight people were killed, including six in Madhya Pradesh, in violence during the ‘Bharat bandh’ on Monday. The home minister said it was not the government that had “diluted” the law. He called rumours that the government could end reservations “false and baseless”. According to a PTI report from Jaipur, the houses of a sitting and a former legislator, both Dalits, were set on fire by a mob in Rajasthan's Hindaun. Soon, curfew was imposed in the area, a senior official said.

In Madhya Pradesh, one more person succumbed to injuries suffered during Monday’s protests. Congress President Rahul Gandhi blamed the BJP and BJP President Amit Shah the Congress for not doing enough for the Dalits.

The Supreme Court said the interim relief provided to the victims of atrocities, under the law, must be given immediately without waiting for the filing of a first information report. The law was amended recently to provide monetary and other kinds of relief to SC and ST victims, in accordance with the offence and their status.

The Bench of Justice A K Goel and Justice U U Lalit, which passed the order on March 20, said its anxiety was only to protect innocents from prosecution. The judges said the liberty of innocent people must be protected as much as that of the SCs and STs. Though review petitions are not heard in open court, this petition was heard at a special sitting, as ordered by the Chief Justice. Attorney General K K Venugopal pressed for the review of the judgment in view of public reactions. The court had read down certain provisions of the SC/ST Atrocities Act as it felt that the law was being misused. During the hearing, the judges observed that those who were agitating against the judgment had “either not read the judgment or have been misled by others”. The judges insisted that no innocent person should be jailed before a preliminary inquiry. Unlike in other offences, where there is an inquiry before an arrest, this law provides for no forum to verify the allegations.

With PTI inputs

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