Gujarat 2018-2022: Dismal Conviction In Cases For Atrocities On Dalits

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Gujarat 2018-2022: Dismal Conviction In Cases For Atrocities On Dalits

| Updated: January 30, 2023 16:51

Atrocities on Dalits continue in Gujarat and what’s worse, despite the Prevention of Atrocities On Dalits Act, the conviction rate in cases registered between 2018-2021 stands at a dismal 3.5%. 

According to data released by the National Crime Bureau, there were 1,426 cases registered in Gujarat in 2018 under the Prevention of Atrocities On Dalits Act. However, only 450 cases went through due course and led to a mere 14 convictions. The same year saw 140 cases related to Dalit atrocities in Ahmedabad alone, including five murders and eight rapes. 

Similarly, in 2019, of the total of 1,416 cases, hearing in 387 cases was completed, ending in a mere seven convictions. The rest of the cases are pending in court. 

In 2020, the number of convictions came down to three, while the number of cases registered were 1,326 and trials were completed in 68 cases. The lockdown affected court proceedings, which was restricted to essential cases during the first wave of the pandemic. 

In 2021, of the total 1,201 cases of atrocities on Dalits, only eight ended in the guilty being convicted while the court pronounced its verdict in 139 cases. 

In analytical terms, of the 5,369 cases registered during four years, only in 32 cases have the accused been proved guilty, while in 1,012 cases, the accused were acquitted. 

In response to an RTI inquiry, the Gujarat Police reported that the cases range from charges such as murder and rape to lynching and denial of common public spaces. Nearly 814 scheduled caste women were raped in the last 10 years. During the same period, 395 scheduled tribe women were reportedly raped.

From the point of view of understanding these figures, every four days a woman from an SC (Dalit) family stood raped, while every ten days a woman from a ST (Tribal) was put through the violation. The highest number of rapes against SC women in the last decade has been reported from Ahmedabad (152), Rajkot (96), Banaskantha (49), Surat (45) and Bhavnagar (36).

Currently, Dalits have been given protection in 30 villages in Gujarat, of which, 20 are in Saurashtra alone. 

Writer and social activist Urvashi Kothari

Writer and social activist Urvashi Kothari sounds the alarm bells stating: “If you look closely at the statistics, the number of cases registered is decreasing each year. However, it does not mean that crime rates have nose-dived too. It simply means that despite a steady rise in atrocities on Dalits, the case gets buried or is not reported at all. Such cases range from attacks on Dalit youth for sporting a moustache, to Dalit weddings being invaded for making noise or worse, rape and sexual harassment of their women.” 

Kothari dissects the pattern conviction and punishment in such cases saying: “If penalty has been pronounced, an NGO or a powerful section of the society stands behind the wronged. In most cases, the accused, the complainant and the witnesses are all residents of the same area. The more time it takes to get the verdict, the more anti-social pressures are created. Weak economic and educational aspects hinder this further. In the last five years, the strength and activism of NGOs and other social organizations have sharply declined.” 

Gujarat High Court advocate Sameer Shaikh

On the other hand, Gujarat High Court advocate Sameer Shaikh questions policing in such matters. According to Shaikh, cases registered under the Act, are to be investigated only by officers of ACP level or above. The police file a charge sheet in a complaint only when the role and crime of the accused in its investigation appear to be true, otherwise the investigating officer can file a closure report after the investigation. In “97 per cent of the cases, the alleged involvement of the accused raises questions about the investigation. Then sources and connections are used to suppress matters,” he shares. 

The Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act was brought on September 9, 1989. The rules came into force on March 31, 1995. Provisions have been made against 22 clearly defined crimes under this law. These range from trying to deny economic, democratic and social rights to people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to exploitation, discrimination and harassment.

Section 14 of the Act provides for speedy trial of such cases in district courts.  During this time, there is also a provision for financial assistance at various levels from lodging an FIR to filing a charge sheet. In reality, however, the victims are rarely helped.

When asked to comment, retired police officer J.H. Vyas shared that even if the complaint is false, “no investigating officer wants to take it on himself and he submits the charge sheet in the court. In many cases, a mutual agreement is arrived upon, whatever be the reason.” 

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