Supreme Court Order, Largescale Violence by Dalits and its Political Ramifications

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The last few days have been very traumatic for India. TV screens have been filled with images of mobs on the rampage, scenes of wanton destruction of public and private , and accounts of terrified citizens stranded in the midst of violence. The provocation was a recent judgement by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court against the accused in cases registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of ) Act, 1989, point out Navodita, our Associate Editor, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

The recent incidents of violence by Dalits across the country goes on to indicate how it is to have debates and discussions about the prevalent caste system in India and view it in the proper light.

The last few days have been very traumatic for India. TV screens have been filled with images of violent mobs on the rampage, scenes of wanton destruction of public and private property, and accounts of terrified citizens stranded in the midst of violence. The provocation was a recent judgement by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court against the accused in cases registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Predictably, parties of all hues have sensed an opportunity in this violent expression of public and the blame game has begun. However, there is a need to move away from the angry rhetoric and have a serious debate on this issue. At stake is not just the important question of justice for victims of caste atrocities, but also equally important questions of due process and the rule of law.

The judgement has been criticised on various grounds. The legal argument is of judicial overreach. The Court is accused of creating provisions in the criminal law that go beyond the letter and of the law and might even subvert the original intention of the law. Others claim that there is no data to show that Atrocities Act has been seriously abused and, therefore, the court is tilting at windmills. It is also argued that despite the enactment of this law, there has been no significant improvement in the discrimination faced by Dalits and Adivasis. Therefore, any dilution of its provisions represents a betrayal of our constitutional commitment to ending caste discrimination. Faced with public anger, the government has filed a review petition, which is pending before the Court. Whatever its final outcome, this case raises important questions that deserve to be discussed and debated in a reasonable manner.

As the nation continues to debate the matter, it is noteworthy that the public anger by Dalits may cost the dearly. This public outcry by Dalits and various tribes and communities is indicative of a vibrant democracy. The BSP and the Congress might use this to raise their voice against the government in these states. It is interesting to note that in Uttar Pradesh Samajwadi Party, JD (U) in Bihar and Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka have ceased to comment on the matter. The is leaving no stone unturned to prove that they will take care of the Dalits and various tribes and that their rights are well protected. It’s not necessary that the Congress or the BSP will gain anything out of this violence. The bitter truth, however, is that the Hindus care less about the rights of their Dalit counterparts. The supports the Scheduled Tribes in some areas and even represents these at the state and national level. They want that these tribes should be viewed championing the cause of Dalits. This has its own advantages and disadvantages. The may face a defeat in this as all Dalit equations do not fall under one single roof. Even the Congress and other parties may have to face a defeat on this front.

The truth of the matter is that there are these medium-class tribes which are at the forefront in hurling atrocities on the Dalits and lower tribes- whether it is in Tamil Nadu or in Uttar Pradesh. Hindu communalism is a major setback, but the upper caste Hindus have refrained from doing any harm to the Dalits. It is the mid-level castes that now look down upon the Dalits. Along with the social aspect, these Dalits are being subjected to economic and political torture and exploitation.

In 2019, this may prove to have an adverse impact on the BJP vote although later the trend may reverse. In states, the Congress is likely to win the Dalit vote as there are a lot of areas where Mayawati’s BSP does not exist or does not contest. In Uttar Pradesh of course, Mayawati will benefit the most from this Dalit outrage at the SC verdict. The BJP won’t be left out of this outrage as Dalits are angry about the whole fiasco around cow vigilantism and beef and the resultant violence against Dalits. The BJP will have to pay for its ‘Hindutva’ politics. On the other hand, it is also true that this public outrage is not going to do anything to empower the tribes and Dalits in remote villages.

There is a need of the hour that there should be a ‘democratic revolution’ to stop violence against Dalits. At the moment, few upper and medium-class Hindu castes, upper-caste Muslims, Sikh, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains are obstructing such development of Dalits. It is important for the sake of democracy to seek such a change. It is for this reason that caste will continue to play an important role in politics.

©Navodita Pande

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Navodita Pande

Navodita Pande

Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24x7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.
Navodita Pande
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