At a time when dominant caste outfit leaders in Tamil Nadu are demanding the abolition of The Scheduled Castes and The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, statistics points to certain hard facts. Between 2005 and 2010, nearly 29% cases registered under the SC/ST Act in Tamil Nadu were closed by the police as “mistake of fact/law”.
The National Crime Records Bureau’s statistics also revealed that in 6% cases, the police did not find prima-facie criminality and therefore did not file charge-sheets and filed a closure report. In effect, this means the police have found an alarmingly high number - around 35% - of complaints lodged under the SC/ST Act as unsubstantiated charge or false during the period.
While caste Hindu leaders say the figures would back their demand for abolishing the Act, Dalit activists are blaming apathetic police officers for the closure of the cases.
A senior police officer says Dalits can’t necessarily be blamed for the misuse of the legislation. “I won’t blame the Dalits. A few political outfits will always intervene even if there is a minor personal issue between a Dalit and a non-Dalit and convince the former to make false allegations. We register the complaint as filing an FIR is mandatory when a case is made out under the SC/ST Act. But during investigations, the complainant may confess that the allegations are false and the investigation officer has to close the case,” says the officer.
There have been some striking instances of misuse as in other cases like the anti-dowry legislation.
“I remember a case where a Dalit man died in a textile mill after he fell from a ladder. But a district secretary of a Dalit outfit was compelling me to file a case under the SC/ST Act,” recalls another officer.
National Crime Records Bureau data shows that between 2005 and 2010, out of 2,777 cases in which trial were completed, only 435 cases (15.66%) ended in conviction. Dalit activists, however, say the police are responsible for the poor conviction rate.
“You have to blame the absolute lack of victim or witness protection system in our villages. A Dalit, after lodging a complaint against an dominant caste person, must continue to live in the same village. So he is always vulnerable. The police too, do not generally show any interest in the welfare of the Dalits. That is the reason for many witnesses and complainants turning hostile and the poor conviction rate,” says advocate Bhavani B Mohan.
When queried about the large number cases being closed as mistake of fact, he says, “As most Dalits are illiterate, the police themselves add unsubstantial statements in the complaint to create loopholes. Sometimes, in the closure notice, the police would merely ask the illiterate person to sign without explaining him or her the reason and submit it in the court.”