NEW DELHI: The gruesome gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua region ignited debates on several problems of the region such as child safety and tribal rights. In fact, it led to reforms in rape laws, providing death penalty child rapists and now, it may even lead to applicability of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 to the state.
The Act was passed for protecting the life and dignity of tribal communities across India. However, this Act was not made applicable to the tribes of J&K by virtue of the state’s special status. Neither have parallel laws been drawn up in the state to address the issues of the tribes.
But this may change as the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) is set to make a recommendation to the President for implementation of the special act or a related act in the state, The Sunday Standard has learnt. The panel arrived at the conclusion after one of its senior officials visited the state in wake of the brutal incident to examine the socio-economic condition of tribals in the area. The official found that the facilities available to tribals of J&K are extremely inadequate and that the tribal community in the state has been facing atrocities and resultantly, they lag behind in all social parameters — health, education, economic condition etc.
Pertinently, since the BJP-PDP government has come to power in the state, there have been other Central laws which were extended to the state, citing that they were ‘pro-poor and pro-people’ but the demand of state tribals to be brought under Act has hardly been considered by the government. National Food Security Act (NFSA), Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act are some of the central laws which became applicable to the state after the BJP-PDP government came to power in the state.
In fact in January, the state government even said that such a legislation was not required in the state as the “state is reputed for its excellent track record of harmony between various communities across the religious and caste divide.”
Secretary of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes Raghav Chandra confirmed the development but did not divulge details. He said, “The situation of tribals in J&K is grim and there is no reason why they should not be covered under laws to protect their life and dignity. We will soon make a recommendation to the President in this regard.”
A large majority of the STs in J&K belong to the Gujjar-Bakarwal community to which the victim of the Kathua case belonged. Talking about the issue, a senior government functionary pointed out that tribals comprise nearly 10 per cent of the state’s population, adding that tribals make almost 90 per cent of the population in strategically crucial areas of Ladakh and Kargil.
The Act ensures rehabilitation of tribals who are subjected to atrocities. “To prevent the commission of offenses of atrocities against the members of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, to provide for Special Courts for the trial of such offenses and for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offenses and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto,” states the Act in its Preamble.