At a time when upper castes are protesting amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to restore its provisions, the BJP government in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh has taken a decisive step to ensure better conviction in cases of atrocities against SCs and STs.
More than one-third of cases, filed under different provisions of the Act in the state, collapse because complainants fail to provide caste certificates. The absence of the certificate also means that a complainant does not get monetary relief on time.
In a circular dated September 4, the Madhya Pradesh government’s general administration department has asked divisional commissioners, district collectors and sub-divisional revenue officers not to force applicants to provide documents to prove that they, or their forefathers, were residents of the state before 1950.
“Revenue officials should visit the spot or organise camps to check the veracity of the information provided by the applicant. They should record statements of the complainant, the respective sarpanch or ward councillor or prominent citizens of the locality and recommend issue of permanent caste certificates after satisfying themselves,’’ the circular stated.
Organisations working for SCs and STs say obtaining caste certificates is very difficult in the state because officials demand documents and proof that the poor, illiterate and marginalised members of the community can’t provide and, therefore, stop seeking certificates out of frustration.
The state has already included caste certificate under the Madhya Pradesh Public Services Guarantee Act which ensures time-bound delivery of several services.
The circular stated that though the Act stipulates a 30-day period, caste certificates should be accorded the highest priority. The applicant should be issued a caste certificate within 15 days if his grandfather, father, uncle, brother or sister has a caste certificate, the circular stated.
Madhya Pradesh has a high incidence of crimes against SCs and STs, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The Act requires that a chargesheet be filed in the court within 60 days.
Additional DGP (SC/ST) Pragya Richa Srivastava told The Indian Express that at least one-third of the cases fall through because complainants can’t provide caste certificates. The complainant does not need it at the time of filing the FIR but has to submit it at the earliest. She said a chargesheet can’t be filed in the absence of the caste certificate.
“In most cases, complainants are poor and illiterate and fail to submit the certificate. Often, we go out of our way to help them procure the certificate,’’ she said. In some cases, the accused are convicted but not under the SC/ST Act. She said hundreds of cases are pending for want of certificates.
Dalit leader Mohan Patil said getting a caste certificate is very difficult because the authorities insist on documents and proofs that only literates in the community can provide. He alleged that the format of the application is often changed, making it even more difficult.
“The Act helps us only because the oppressors are not aware about the absence of caste certificate and behave themselves because they are scared of the consequences,’’ he said. Many police stations, he said, don’t register an FIR because the complainant can’t produce a caste certificate.