Saturday, March 29, 2014

New Gujarat government order on norms for compensation to Dalit and tribal atrocity victims "lacks clarity"

By Our Representative
In an order, the Gujarat government has declared that the tribals and Dalits, who become victims of atrocities perpetrated by a group consisting of tribals or Dalits, on one hand, and other communities, on the other, would also be compensated under the prevention of scheduled tribe and caste (ST/SC) atrocities Act. Issued ahead of the declaration of the Lok Sabha elections, on February 24, 2014, the order has come in the wake of incidents like Patan gang rape case, in which two of the five convicted for life -- Manish Parmar and Ashwin Parmar -- were Dalits. Non-Dalits convicts are Kiran Patel, Mahendra Prajapati and Suresh Patel.
Senior Dalit activist Kantilal Parmar of the Navsarjan Trust, a Dalit human rights organization in Ahmedabad, said, while the decision was welcome, it has not only come too late, but has failed to take into account past cases. “Ever since the rules for providing compensation to tribal and Dalit victims were promulgated on March 31, 1995 under the anti-atrocities Act, between 200 and 250 tribals and Dalits must have suffered at the hand of groups which consisted of tribals or Dalits and other communities. It is not clear whether they will get compensation”, he said.
Parmar said, as an exceptional case, the Patan gang rape victim was compensated against, but this has not been the case in other instances, when the perpetrators consist of non-Dalits and Dalits or tribals and non-tribals, too. Refusing to pay compensation to the victims, the Gujarat government would “assiduously” cite a government resolution of October 16, 1982, which said that compensation cannot be paid under the anti-atrocities Act “in case the atrocity is committed by person of the same community”, i.e., Dalits or tribals.
“The order, issued on February 24, 2014, should have come not today, but two decades ago, when new norms for compensation were announced”, Parmar insisted, adding, “Now it seems necessary for all those who have not been paid compensation for wrongly interpreting the Act to approach the court of law in order to get justice. The atrocity against them was treated as falling under criminal procedure code.” Significantly, there has also been a demand from a section of the Dalits that atrocities committed on Dalits from within the community should also be paid compensation at the same basis as others.
Those who believe that Dalit victims of atrocities should get compensation even if the atrocity is committed by Dalits point out that there is caste hierarchy even within the Dalits, which is overlooked by the law. At the lowest rung fall the Valmikis, who are forced to do manual scavenging, and they are often treated as untouchables for so-called upper caste Dalits. “This has come to light in several studies”, a senior Dalit expert points out, adding, “Intra-Dalit conflicts, unfortunately, are a major hindrance in the fight against atrocities against Dalits. Unless this is overcome, it is not possible to proceed ahead.”

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