Letter to BS: Supreme Court refuses to stay its order on SC/ST Act

The Supreme Court’s (SC) refusal to stay or revise its original order on the SC/ST Act may delight the upper castes, but it certainly represents a setback to the struggle for social justice. 

The apex court’s line of reasoning, that the Act gives no legal remedy to the accused and the ‘amendments’ made were in the nature of ‘safety measures’ to ensure that innocents are not punished, does not hold. 

By its logic, filing a first information report or initiating prosecution and conviction or punishment are indistinguishable. The apex court could have shown some sensitivity and avoided the observation that the Dalit protesters did not read or understand its ruling. 

Given the kind of judgments that some judges and courts are coming out with, we are compelled to ask whether they are caste-neutral. It is ironical that there is no judge from the Dalit and tribal communities in the SC despite them constituting a considerable percentage of India’s population. 

A greater representation for SCs and STs in the top echelons of the judiciary is needed to correct the unfair situation. As a marginalised and vulnerable community, the Dalits were quite within their rights to protest against the SC ruling diluting the safeguards written into the SC/ST Act to ensure their protection. 

In downplaying the cause of protests and overplaying the manner of protests, sections of the media tried to deflect attention from the rightness of their cause — atrocity prevention. The Narendra Modi government filed a review petition to roll back the dilution of the Act out of compulsion rather than conviction. The Sangh Parivar has no reason to be unhappy with the rejection of the review petition filed by the government. 

The dark-skinned indigenous people,  driven to the margins of the society for centuries, are clearly refusing to be taken for granted and asserting their rights. Times are changing — Dalits are determined more than ever to not take the atrocities lying down and live under the shadow of fear. They have nothing to lose but the fetters of caste that chain them; they have a lot to gain — self-respect and dignity. 

G David Milton, Kanyakumari

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