MORE THAN 400 adivasis and Dalits from Raigad, Palghar and Thane districts expressed disappointment over the Maratha community’s call to dilute provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act at a gathering in Dadar on Saturday. Stating that the law is essential for their survival, representatives of the groups threatened a strike if there is any move to repeal the law.
The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act provides legal protection to the SC and ST population against caste-based atrocities by members of dominant communities. Since September, silent rallies by the Maratha community in Marathwada, Khandesh, Western Maharashtra and even areas on the outskirts of Mumbai, organised as protests to seek justice for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Maratha girl in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar, and to call for a review of the Atrocities Act.
Terming the move to be against their economic and social interests, tribal leaders in a ‘Save Atrocities Act Parishad’ called the Act a necessary social legislation. “We strongly support the Maratha community as far as demanding justice against the Kopardi incident is concerned. However, interference with the present law must not be an issue of contemplation for the community… We oppose their call and demand that the law be made stricter,” said Chadrakant Gaikwad, leader of Sarvahara Jan Andolan, Raigad.
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The Marathas have called for amendment to the Act as they believe it has been ‘misused’ against them. Claiming such demands to be baseless, leaders stated reasons for the necessity of the Act to remain than be repealed or amended.
“We started getting minimum wages after the Act came through. Forceful land acquisition and manipulating our folks for personal interest by landlords was brought into limelight. Every form of harassment committed by the higher class upon us were reduced after the authorities started fearing the Act. Annulment of the law makes us more vulnerable towards the ones in power,” said Rambhau Wadu, leader, Shetkari Shetmajoor Panchayat, Palghar.
“The Maharashtra government has time to stop and look at the huge movements and demands by the Maratha community. However, why do sudden deaths of Dalits and adivasis go unheard? Neither the state government nor the defence machinery is equipped to help us or our cause but snatching away the basic layer of security we have through this Act must not be done,” said Dileep Dake, convenor of the Shoshit Jan Andolan, a federation of these organisations.