Saturday, April 12, 2014

Election Commission asks Gujarat govt to immediately Implement new SC-ST anti-atrocities ordinance

By Our Representative
The Election Commission of India has asked the Gujarat government to immediately start implementing the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance, 2014. The ordinance was promulgated on March 4, 2014, and the Gujarat government was refusing to take any action for implementing it, say Dalit activists. This forced Kirit Rathod, senior activist, Navsarjan Trust, to write a letter to the Gujarat governor to ensure that the ordinance was put into action without any delay.
On receiving a direction from the governor, the Election Commission of India asked home and law departments of the Gujarat government to start the procedure of implementing the audience, “as required by law.” The commission’s order acquires significance because the ordinance, widely interpreted as an effort by the UPA government to “woo” SCs and STs ahead of elections, making penal provisions more stringent to deter people committing crimes against members of these communities.
The implementation of the ordinance, according to the activist, is significant, because for the first time it seeks criminal proceedings against those who try to intimidate members of SC or ST during elections. “The ordinance must be implemented during the Lok Sabha polls if they are to be fair and free”, Rathod told Counterview.
Thus, the ordinance seeks to “prevent” or “intimidate” members of SC or ST “not to vote or vote for a particular candidate in a manner than that provided under the law”; or “not to file a nomination as a candidate or to withdraw such nomination”; or “not to propose or second a nomination or a SC or a ST candidate in any election”; or “after the polls causes hurt or grievous injury to impose social or economic boycott upon a member of a SC or a ST or prevents availing benefits of any public service which is due to him.”
This apart, the ordinance imposes more stringent provisions on those perpetrating atrocities than has been the case. Till now, most of the crimes invited punishment of less than 10 years, but with amendments crimes like these will invite punishment for more than 10 years. The amendments to Section 3 also define new crimes and add some to the list. Obstructing use of common property, allegations of witchcraft, preventing entry in place of worship, social and economic boycott and promoting enmity are some of the changes which have been added to the list. These crimes will now be considered as cruelty against SC and STs.
The ordinance was brought in following demands that penal provisions be given more teeth and the ambit of crimes against SCs and STs be broadened to prevent atrocities in any form. The measure also establishes special courts for the trial of such offenses and the rehabilitation of victims. The ordinance adds a chapter on the rights of victims and witness, making it obligatory for the state to make arrangements for the protection of victims, their dependents and witnesses. It requires state governments to make schemes to ensure the implementation of rights of victims and witnesses.
The ordinance adds, several new offences to the list of19 punishable offences. These include tonsuring of head, moustache, or similar acts which are derogatory to the dignity of Dalits and Adivasis; garlanding with chappals; denying access to irrigation facilities or forest rights ; dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or to dig graves; using or permitting manual scavenging; dedicating Dalit women as devadasi; abusing in caste name; perpetrating witchcraft atrocities; imposing social or economic boycott; and so on.
It also lists hurting the modesty of Dalit/Adivasi woman by removing her garments; forcing to leave house , village or residence; defiling objects sacred to SCs and STs; and touching a women or uses words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature against women. Till now a number of commonly committed offences (hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation, kidnapping etc.) were excluded from the Act. “This provided loopholes for the perpetrators of crime to escape from being punished for these commonly committed crimes”, protagonists of the ordinance say.

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