PROTESTING Marathas have alleged widespread misuse (by Dalits) of the atrocities law to target them. Facts, however, show a slightly different picture. The first report submitted to the Maharashtra State Police by its Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) cell shows a trend of complainants turning hostile in cases registered under Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 over the last three years.
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Of the total 889 acquittals statewide between 2014 and 2016, at least one of every four acquittals reflects a hostile complainant. Further, 243 witnesses, in serious offences involving murder, rape, dacoity, and registered under the POA (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and whose statement weighed in favour of the victim, turned hostile. Together, they constitute 54.33 per cent of the acquittals.
The orders saw 260 cases in which the courts found insufficient evidence against the accused. A total of 3,300 cases at various stages of pendency between 2014 and 2016 October have been compiled. On August 18, nine days after the first protests by Marathas in Aurangabad, the office of the Protection of Civil Rights based in state police headquarters, started reading acquittal orders in cases charged under the POA.
Maharashtra has seen angry protests by Marathas, the state’s dominant political community which accounts for 33 per cent of the state’s population, against the alleged misuse of the law. The state police have noted that of the total cases where complainants turned hostile, the majority was in Aurangabad range (55) and Nanded range (68) and followed a similar pattern with 44 witnesses in Aurangabad turning hostile, followed by 31 in Nanded.
The “house cleaning exercise” as officials put it, began with the staggering numbers of pendency, both at the end of the police probe, and at the courts. “We are seriously doing everything now to improve the conviction rate,” says Quaiser Khalid, Special Inspector General, PCR. A letter has been sent to the Social Justice and Welfare department and Law department for better training infrastructure and sensitisation programmes for all police personnel.
“The areas where we have marked the maximum cases of pendency, and in cases where complainants and witnesses are turning hostile, we provide a complete support-backed solution. Officers will now be trained further to offer guidance to witnesses. Each range has been asked to appoint special public prosecutors for these cases. Most importantly, we are also looking to strengthen the protection and commitment to the witness and complainant,” he says.
Avatthi Ramaiah, professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who studies crime against Dalits, says the figures only indicate the national trend. “Back home, the Marathas will say these figures are fake. Whether they take it or not, these are registered complaints which have gone to the judicial courts. In my study, I have seen in most cases the accused are from the powerful political class and power is usually manifested through crimes like rape or murder. We have come across several cases where the complainant is first intimidated, then financially induced. This will continue until the government doesn’t look to bring sufficient caste-backed representation in its own police force,” he said.
Keval Uke, General Secretary, National Dalit Movement for Justice says the “prejudice” was the challenge. “These figures match our understanding of the court cases. In one case in Solapur, a rape victim took her case back after social boycott. In another case stone pelting on the house of a Dalit ensured they didn’t take the case forward. In many cases we have intervened we are told by the court that caste is not to be brought in the case which itself defeats the purpose of the act.”
“These cases are being handled at the level of Deputy Superintendent and a fresh circular has been issued this month to ensure witnesses are motivated and the police take every measure to see they are brought to court. After the Assembly is over, we are going to have a massive seminar where a lot of our findings are going to be discussed in detail and police ranks sensitised. In terms of complainants, there is a general agreement that settlements are being made as they all live in the same village and we are looking into that too,” said Satish Mathur, Director General of Police, Maharashtra.