The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act 2015 (POA Amend. Act) has begun to yield results. The Act was enacted to comprehensively amend and strengthen the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 (POA Act 1989). Tamil Nadu’s Tiruppur Principal District and Sessions Court has on December 12, 2017 convicted eight of the accused for the murder of V. Shankar, a B.Tech-educated Dalit youth, son of a labourer, as a punishment for the marriage between him and Kausalya, a non-Dalit, educated girl from a middle-class family. The court awarded death sentences to six of the accused, including Kausalya’s father.
The trial was completed one year and nine months after the crime. This is fast by Indian standards and was facilitated by the appointment of an exclusive Special Public Prosecutor by the state government, in accordance with the POA Amend. Act. The trial could have been completed even faster — the Act lays down a time limit of two months — if the state government had, as required by the amended Act and Rules, also taken the following steps: One, establish an exclusive special court. Two, set up a high-powered “vigilance and monitoring committee”, with the chief minister as chairman and ministers of home, finance, and SC and ST departments, SC and ST MPs, MLAs and MLCs, senior bureaucrats, and local representatives of national commissions for SCs and STs as members. This committee is required to meet every January and July and discharge functions listed in Rule 16.
The Act requires these two steps to be taken by every state government. The successful prosecution of this case and the appropriate punishment awarded should be utilised to prevent further cases of atrocities including “dishonorable” killings, unfortunately referred to as “honour killings”. In addition to the two measures mentioned above, certain other steps must be taken in Tamil Nadu and all other states.
There is clear perception of threat to the life and security of Kausalya and Shankar’s family. Effective police protection, withdrawn a year after the murder, should be restored and maintained till the threat clearly disappears. The death sentence will have to go to the high court for confirmation. There may also be appeals. These have to be diligently attended to by the state government.
Appropriate schemes should be prepared for the rights and entitlements of victims and witnesses in accessing justice as required. This case shows that the life of a young man with a promising career was snuffed out, the life of a young woman also with a promising career, blighted. A family has been drowned in sorrow, and six of the convicted are facing premature death by law. This is an example of wholesale destruction caused by the caste system. This case should be widely publicised and people exhorted to come out of the death-trap of the caste system and mentality.
There have been a number of cases of the past where persons have been killed for Dalit and non-Dalit marriages and surviving wives and families are languishing, like those of Abhirami and Divya, whose husbands lost their life in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Abhirami’s elder brother and father were convicted in 2015. The state government has to take stock of such cases and ensure the confirmation of death sentences by the high court.
I am averse to all violence, including the death penalty. But unfortunately, in India’s deeply caste-ridden society in which normal human beings are criminalised in the caste context, death sentences become inevitable, like surgical amputations to save the body. All survivors should be fully and permanently rehabilitated and honoured in public functions. The state government should take charge of the entire education of the children of Abirami and other such survivors.
The role of the local police in a number of cases has been adversely commented upon — like that of the Deputy Superintendent of Police of Usilampatti with respect to Dilip Kumar and Vimala Devi in 2014. Police officers and personnel who have been in dereliction of their duty should be prosecuted under Section 4 of the Act. The IPS officers of the state must rectify caste biases on the part of lower officers and personnel. The government should take stock of inter-caste marriages between Dalits and non-Dalits and give them full protection.
Killings and other atrocities occur to the greatest extent in marriages between Dalits and non-Dalits. This is a recent phenomenon, in addition to the atrocities on traditional grounds related to land, resistance to “untouchability”, etc. But there are also instances where such crimes take place where partners belong to a non-Dalit “lower” caste and an “upper” caste. To cover such cases, it will be necessary to have a separate legislation with provisions for the effective protection, a deterrent death sentence, and total rehabilitation. This is particularly important because inter-caste marriages are bound to take place and should become more frequent. Political parties should take a clear stand against such violence and in favour of inter-caste marriages.
The perils of the caste system, including its adverse consequences on the growth of employment opportunities for the youth of all communities, should be effectively impressed on the younger generation through the education system.
The POA Amendment Act should be studied by every chief minister, home minister, SC and ST department minister, chief secretary, home secretary and DGP. They should take full charge of its implementation. Training courses should be held at different levels for police officers and other officers of the district administration.