From the Una flogging to attacks on Dalits for donning a moustache or watching garba to the recent killing of a Dalit man for riding a horse during his wedding procession, caste-based atrocities have seen a rise in the state between 2015 and 2017.
According to the recently released data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Gujarat has seen a 46% increase in cases of caste based atrocities between 2015 and 2017. While the number of reported crime stood at 1,010 in 2015, the year of Patidar quota agitation led by Hardik Patel and its related violence, it rose to 1,322 in 2016 and 1,477 in 2017.
Of all the crimes reported in the state, 36.3% cases were of atrocities against members from the Scheduled Castes (SCs). The number of atrocities committed against Dalits across the country during the year 2017 increased as well. The number of atrocities committed against SCs during the year was 21.5 per cent with over 43,200 cases. The number of cases recorded are a rise from 40,801 in 2016 and 38,670 in 2015.
“A modification in the Atrocities Act came into effect in 2015-16 following which 22 more kinds of offences were added. Earlier, there were just 32 kinds of offences under the Act but now there are 54. This is the major reason why the number of cases under the Atrocities Act have increased. Also as police officials, we are ensuring that FIRs in caste-based atrocities are filed and that they don’t go unreported… we are strictly monitoring the same,” said KK Ojha, Additional DGP, SC/ST cell. The newly added offences include, garlanding with footwear, compelling to dispose of or carry human or animal carcasses, or do manual scavenging and abusing SCs or STs by caste name in public, among others.
While there was a rise in the number of reported cases, the pendency of cases in the courts increased and conviction rate decreased. In the court, pendency of cases stands at an alarming 95% as opposed to the national average of 91.7%. A total of 7,478 cases of atrocities were pending in the court after 2016, adding up to 8,827 at the end of 2017, along with the new cases of 2017. Of the cases pending from the previous year, 11 cases resulted in conviction, while only one case resulted in conviction from the cases sent to court in 2017. On the contrary, a total of 411 cases resulted in acquittal.
Former IPS officer, Rajan Priyadarshi, told The Indian Express, “The conviction rate in cases pertaining to caste-based atrocities is the lowest in Gujarat as compared to other states where the rate is 100%. This scenario has always been the same. The conviction rates have always been below 5%. Mainly, the judiciary is responsible. Caste-based slurs are rejected by the courts even if the victim in the case has been physically hurt. In many cases, the cases are quashed on premises that the crime did not take place in public view. Caste certificate is another concern. Not only of the victims but the court asks for caste certificate for the accused as well, which eventually leads to either the case being quashed or the accused being acquitted. Many provisions of the Atrocities Act are not taken into consideration and are blatantly violated.”
Of the total cases that went to court in 2017, trials were completed only in 434 cases. With this, Gujarat has recorded a 2.8% conviction rate against the national average of 35.3%, the third lowest conviction rate in the country only ahead of Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal, which have recorded no convictions of the one and 11 cases that went to trial from the states respectively.
Gujarat has recorded the lowest conviction rate in the country with the rate dropping from 4.6% in 2016. A total of 3,470 people were arrested, including 3,298 men and 172 women while a total of 3,693 people were chargesheeted, including 3,443 men and 196 women. The record also mentions that a total of 32 persons were convicted for crimes against the SCs, while 1,083 persons were acquitted.
Dalit activist, Valjibhai Patel (84), lists the reasons behind the increasing crimes and decreasing conviction rates. “In 2009, I studied 400 cases in which 95% acquittals were due to police negligence. I had filed a PIL in the HC with this regard as well. The situation continues to remain the same even today. The government structure that should exist for the Atrocity Act does not exist in the state due to lack of political will, police negligence and social outlook within the state. Nineteen districts were supposed to have exclusive courts to deal with cases under the Act, but none of them are functional,” he said.
High Court advocate Anand Yagnik, who was also the lawyer for Una violence victims, echoed Patel and said, “Law and order is a state subject and the state has to take the responsibility. But in Gujarat, the state dispensation has miserably failed to uphold rule of law. The state has witnessed disruptive justice and polarisation based on caste lines and this polarisation is something that violates the constitutional law and rights. The major issue facing the Gujarat judiciary in is the failure to appoint public prosecutors. Only after the intervention of he Supreme Court, 400 public prosecutors were appointed. Even then, the credibility and efficiency of these public prosecutors are always under question, which is why criminal justice suffers. The state apparatus is working in a way to give an upper hand to the upper caste to comit crime against SCs.” Of the total crimes against the SCs in the state, a total of 24 cases of murder were registered, 27 cases of attempt to murder, 256 cases under the section of ‘simple hurt’, including IPC sections 323, 324, 327, 328 and 330, 58 cases under grievous hurt, 17 cases of sexual harassment and 6 POCSO cases. As many as 44 cases of kidnapping were registered, including 28 cases of kidnapping women to compel them to marriage. Cases of rape were 105 out of which 40 were pertaining to minor survivors. There were 117 cases of rioting, 425 cases of criminal intimidation and 138 cases of intentional insult.
As far as police investigations are concerned, of the 1,477 cases in 2017, 1,349 cases chargesheets were filed, while 29 cases ended as final reports were false and eight cases ended as mistake of fact, and 16 cases were found to be with Insufficient Evidence or Untraced or ‘No Clue’ . As many as 1,408 cases were disposed of by the police, 51 cases were quashed at the investigation level and 46 cases were stayed at investigation stage.
Gujarat is also the only state that has one case not investigated under CRPC 157 (1)_(b), which states that if it appears to the officer in charge of a police station that there is no sufficient ground for an investigation, he shall not investigate the case. As per the NCRB records, the rate of chargesheets filed by the police increased from 94.5% in 2016 to 95.8% in 2017.
Adding to this, former police officer DK Rathod, who served as DySP, SC/ST cell, said, “The political will in the state to bring justice to Dalits is lacking. Many times, provisions under the Atrocities against the SC/ST Act are overlooked. It is mandatory as per rule 7 of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, that a police officer of DySP rank or above should investigate the cases. But in simpler cases, the investigation is carried out by officers of lower ranks. This creates lacunae in the investigation that becomes visible when the case goes to court and eventually it is dropped.”