New Delhi: India is a land of diversities where people from different strata and background have lived together for centuries. But they haven't always lived together in perfect harmony and with a growing social divide, the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 was brought in.
The one major objective of this Act is to prevent oppression of people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It also seeks to deter people from committing such oppression and providing victims with special rights and privileges. A fast-track court for complaints made by anyone from the SC and ST community is also established. Not only does the Act increase punishment in some instances for crimes under Indian Penal Code (IPC) but also targets specific crimes - generally humiliating in nature - against SC and ST communities.
An amended law came into effect from January 26 of 2016 which widened offences recognised by the Act and also promised to further ensure a speedy judicial process.
Controversy erupted last month when. on March 20, the Supreme Court noted that there are instances of abuse using SC/ST Act against government servants. It held that a public servant can only be arrested after approval of the appointing authority. Whereas a non-public servant can be arrested after approval by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) which may be granted in appropriate cases if considered necessary for reasons recorded. A preliminary inquiry will also have to be conducted before an FIR is filed and it is to be ascertained whether the charges fall under the Act or is a result of political and/or personal reasons.
This has now come under a barrage of criticism:
Several Dalit and other SC and ST communities have called for a Bharat Bandh against the SC order. These groups say the order will clamp down on their rights and will be used against them. They, as well as many social commentators, fear that instances reporting crimes against SCs and STs will also come down as a result of the modification.
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes have expressed their reservations against the Supreme Court's verdict. They have appealed that the Act should not be modified in any way and that it should be brought back as it was before the apex court's verdict.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has clarified that the matter will be taken up and that the government is all set to file a review petition. Several SC and ST MPs had also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the matter.
For now, the country stands rather divided on the matter which on the one hand seeks to prevent misuse but on the other, could hurt a large SC and ST community.