A mention of violence against Dalits puts forth images of incidents like those of flogging of Dalits in Una, Gujarat, or of the more recent rape and murder of a Dalit teen in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri. Even in films like Article 15 which have attempted to show the caste violence in India, the setup is rural where a caste blind IPS officer from the city only realises the horrors of caste when he’s appointed in a remote village.
Metropolitan cities are rarely mentioned in the discourse of violence against Dalits. Cities are essentially viewed as a melting pot of cultures that extend economic opportunities and quality of life where existing social identities of caste, religion, class, race, gender, and sexuality are matters of less concern. Ambedkar graphically described villages as a ‘sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and communalism’ asking Dalits to move to the anonymity of cities.
In this context, the 2016 and 2018 report of the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) provides figures for 19 metropolitan cities on crimes against Dalits. It was the first time in the 2016 report (which has data for the years 2014-16) that data on crimes against Scheduled Castes and Tribes was released for the metropolitan cities which have a population of over 2 million.
Since 2014, the metropolitan cities, overall, have seen a decrease in crime against Dalits by 11.4%, according to the data provided by NCRB. India wide statistics on the other hand show a 6% increase in crime against Dalits with 40,401 reported cases in 2014 and 42,793 in 2018.
Crime/Atrocities against Scheduled Castes (SCs): 2014-19
Coming back to metropolitan cities, Lucknow saw the highest number of crimes against Dalits in 2018 with an increase of 275.4% since 2014 followed by Jaipur which had 180 reported cases in 2018 but an overall decrease of 39.3% since 2014. Other metropolitan cities with a high number of reported crimes in 2018 are Patna (97), Bangalore (141), Hyderabad (123), and Kanpur (137).
Crime/Atrocities against Scheduled Castes(SCs) in Metropolitan Cities – 2018
Coimbatore, on the other hand, saw the least crimes amongst 19 cities with a dip of 88.9% since 2014 followed by Chennai where the reported crime decreased by 68.7%. Kolkata recorded the third least crime cases in 2018 but still had a rise in 55.5% since 2014.
Crime/Atrocities against Scheduled Castes (SC’s) in Metropolitan Cities: 2014-18
SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act: The largest number of crimes in the metropolitan cities were recorded under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act with as many as 1361 victims in the last three years itself. Interestingly, this Act has been a reason for countrywide protests in 2018. As on March of the same year, the Supreme Court ruled that there shall be no immediate arrest of a citizen or public servant without prior permissions for crimes registered under the Act. Coupled with this, the court also introduced the provision of anticipatory bail if there is no prima facie case or if, upon investigation, the case is found to be malafide.
However, on Feb 10, 2020, the court upheld the SC/ST Amendment Act 2018 which was brought to nullify the March 2018 judgment. In the amended SC/ST Act, preliminary enquiry and prior approval of appointing authority is not required before FIRs. The anticipatory bail provision has also been removed and courts can quash FIRs only in exceptional cases.
Crime against Dalit women: Not surprisingly, The NCRB data also brought out that a large frequency (with an overall increase of 24.4% from 2016) of the crimes against Dalits reported were crimes against women, including assault, sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism, and insult to modesty.
Pending and false cases: While the reported cases of crime against Dalits have decreased by 17.3% in 2018 as compared to 2016, the number of cases pending police investigation increased by 10.4%.
The number of reported crimes in metropolitan cities against Dalits found to be false has declined by 24% from 200 in 2016 to 152 in 2018.
Court Disposal of Crime/Atrocities against Dalits cases: There is a 30.9% rise in the number of cases pending trial in court from 4052 in 2016 to 5305 in 2018. Patna topped in cities with the highest number of pending trials with 1081 pending cases in 2018 followed by Lucknow, Ahmedabad, and Kanpur which had 878, 700, and 665 pending cases respectively.
The Conviction rate, which is calculated by dividing Cases Convicted to the Cases in which Trials were Completed in a year, fell from 27.5% in 2016 to 17.9% in 2018. Overall in 19 cities, 69 persons were convicted for crime against Dalits and 206 persons were acquitted in 2018. This is a decrease in 52% and 46% from the people convicted and acquitted in 2016 respectively. The conviction rates of cities like Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Kanpur, and Lucknow which have a higher frequency of reported crimes against Dalits fell from 2016 to 2018. This also suggests that rising impunity maybe contributing to the rising violence against the community in these cities.
(In)Completeness of Data
The data released by NCRB is compiled from statistics given by the state/union territory police departments and central law enforcement agencies. Simply put, these are the crimes that are reported and recorded. The reality that often, offences against Dalits are not reported and registered should not be ignored as noted by Human Rights Watch.
Furthermore, the report misses the data on mob lynching which was said to be collected by the NCRB but did not make it to the report. The past few years have seen a rise in reports of mob lynchings of minorities across the country and therefore it becomes essential to track such acts of violence.
These reports also fail to provide data on cases filed under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act of 2013. In the 2016 report, offences related to manual scavenging are clubbed with data of 10 more Special and Local Laws (SLLs) without giving distinct data for each of the offences.
Between 2016 and 2019 as many as 282 people have died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the country with the highest number of 40 in Tamil Nadu. According to data collected by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), at least 50 persons died cleaning sewers in the first six months of 2019 alone reports Indian Express. Bezwada Wilson of Safai Karmachari Andolan suggests that the deaths are much higher than what is reported in the official statistics. The PEMSR Act explicitly states that no person, local authority, or any agency shall engage or employ, either directly or indirectly, any person for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank, and any contravention to this may lead to imprisonment up to two years or fine up to INR two lakh or both. Therefore, clarity of data on manual scavenging could be useful to track and analyse trends.