TIRUPUR: The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is an Act of the Parliament enacted to prevent atrocities against the downtrodden segments of our society. The Act, known better as POA or the SC/ST Act, underwent a landmark alteration to emerge as The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities)Amendment Act, 2015 - a watershed moment in the protection rights of the Dalits.
The purpose of the original Act was to help social inclusion of Dalits into the Indian mainstream. Time and again the Supreme Court has reiterated the significance and importance of the Act. The architect of these two legislations was P S Krishnan, the then special commissioner for SC and STs. He retired as a secretary to the Government of India.
The importance of the Act could be gauged by what the apex court had to say about the legislation: “The offences of atrocities are committed to humiliate and subjugate the SCs and STs with a view to keep them in a state of servitude. Hence, they constitute a separate class of offences and cannot be compared with offences under the Indian Penal Code.” So why amend such a historic Act? The amendment in 2015 was aimed at including provisions missed during the enactment of the original Act.
In his thirty 30 years of service as an IAS officer, Krishnan vigorously worked for the advancement and empowerment of the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Backward Classes (BC). One of the most significant of his pioneering initiatives at the national level was the formulation and initializing of the Special Component Plan for Scheduled Castes in 1978 and later the SC and ST Act (1989) and the SC and ST Amendment act (2015).
As far as the landmark judgment in Udumalai Shankar murder case is concerned, these two Acts were instrumental in getting the accused the sentences they deserved. The legislation served as a touchstone for assessing the moral fabric of our society and where we stood. In delivering a judgment granting death to six of the eight convicts, the additional noose was served under provisions of this Act.
Krishnan shared his views with Express. “The SC and ST Act, 1989, acted as a democratic weapon to serve justice to the Dalits. This Act was used in many cases where Dalits and the downtrodden were victims. It also talks about special courts to try such cases and special prosecutors. In 2015, we worked on the Amendment Act and included provisions which were lacking in the original Act and The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities)Amendment Act, 2015, was passed.”
How the murder case played out
Jul 11, 2015: Caste Hindu Girl Gowsalya of Palani marries Shankar, a Dalit youth from Udumalpet
Mar 13, 2016: Gowsalya and Shankar attacked by a gang, Shankar killed and Gowsalya admitted to a hospital
Jun 16, 2016: Gowsalya’s father Chinnasamy, her mother Annalakshmi, maternal uncle Pandithurai and eight others arrested for the murder
Nine accused, including Gowsalya’s parents, slapped with Goonda’s Act
Aug 19, 2016: The then Tirupur cCollector Jayanthi appears as a witness and gives
Nov 17, 2016: The trial ends and judge postpones verdict
Dec 12, 2017: Judge Alamelu Natarajan delivers a landmark verdict
For: A strong deterrent
Anti-caste campaigners hailed the verdict of death penalty saying it would act as a deterrent and send a strong message to casteist forces. “Though I am against death penalty, I do not want to boast as human rights activist by commenting against death sentence,” Srinivasan, an activist, wrote on the social media. Ravi Kumar, a campaigner against capital punishment said, “Justice triumphed.”
Against: It’s institutional murder
Convicts require severe and rigorous punishment. But, is death penalty right? In a way it is an institutional murder. Lifelong RI is severe than death sentence. Because, death is a gift, not punishment, says Kumaragurunathan Pratheeepan on Facebook. Sai Lakshmikanth says, “That is not even the solution. What would make the murders to feel remorse is that rest of their lifetime in jail should be made as the alms from Gowsalya.”