September 15, 2020
Crimes against Dalits continued to rise despite a nationwide lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic. The National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) has documented more than 100 cases of atrocities from April to June that include lynchings, untouchability practices, mass atrocities and violence against Dalit women.
In Maharashtra, rumours were spread about a Dalit man and his family being COVID positive. They were attacked and asked to leave the village. In Haryana, the Gujjar community attacked a Dalit family for not switching off the lights at 9 p.m. on April 5, as suggested by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In Andhra Pradesh, Dr K. Sudhakar, an anaesthetist, was brutally dragged through the streets with his hands tied behind his back because he reported difficulties regarding PPE Kits. A video of the incident went viral. Sudhakar was later suspended and declared to be of unsound mind. In Rajasthan, a Dalit youth was beaten up by members of the Jat community for opening his essential items shop during the lockdown and keeping a photograph of B.R. Ambedkar.
While the term social distancing further reinforced the caste exclusion and atrocities against Dalits during the pandemic, dominant castes began to openly exhibit their animosity and anti-social attitudes in the absence of the law and order machinery which was entirely focussed on handling the COVID-19 situation.
A dispute over a loan in a village in Tamil Nadu led to the murder of two people from the Dhobi caste by a group from the Thevar community. Babu Pawar and his two sons from the denotified Pardhi community, were brutally killed by the dominant Marathas over a land dispute. A 16-year-old boy in Uttar Pradesh, was shot dead inside his home for going to a temple. A 20-year-old Dalit college student was killed by Maratha men for being in a relationship with a woman from their community. Dalit women became especially vulnerable to sexual violence and other crimes during this time.
In Vijaywada, a nine-month pregnant Dalit woman who had to descend 250 steps from her hilltop home to get daily essentials was sent back empty-handed for being a Dalit. A domestic worker in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, was repeatedly beaten up for raising her voice against the denial of ration. Several instances of gang rape were reported from across Uttar Pradesh. In one gruesome case, a Dalit woman was kept hostage by five influential people of a village for 8 hours on her wedding day and gang- raped several times. In an instance of mass violence at Jaunpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, over a dozen hutments were set ablaze and 14 houses damaged.
“When the entire world is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, even during this crucial period, the attitude of the dominant caste continued to discriminate against Dalits on various occasions,” said Vimal Thorat, Convener for National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR).
The NCDHR, along with NDMJ, analysed data from the past 10 years and released a status report on the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 (SC/ST Act) and Rules 1995.
The report called Quest for Justice, noted that during 2009-2018, more than 3,91,952 cases of atrocities were reported against SCs and 72,367 against STs. As many as 12,750 incidents of rape were registered between 2014 and 2018. Attempt to rape increased to 677 in 2018 from 87 in 2014. There were five cases of acid attack against SC women in 2018. From 2014 to 2018 cases against SC women rose sharply by 42.63 per cent to 41,867 from 5,154.
Amendments to the Act introduced in 2015, and which came into force in January 2016, continue to remain only on paper. The amendments mandated exclusive special courts, but the same have not even been set up in all the States. Apart from that, offences are not getting registered under the correct sections of the amended Act, compensation is not provided as per the newly amended rules, according to the report. The low conviction rate under the SC/ST Act, 25.2 per cent for cases against Dalits and 22.8 per cent for Adivasis, remains a concern.
Former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, while releasing the report online, said, “Dalit communities have long suffered serious abuses, but the state response has fallen short. The government should undertake systemic changes for proper enforcement of law, and ensure that erring officials are held accountable and booked as they fail in their duty.”
Dr Thol Thirumavalavan, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, said, “Caste-based violence against Dalits is escalating as we fight to claim justice. The number of cases is growing and the brutality of the crimes is becoming increasingly severe. Systems of justice meant to protect Dalits at the national level are completely failing us. We are asking for immediate global call and support in our struggle.”