Monday, July 27, 2015

Bihar poll exigency?: Modi government to introduce "tougher" anti-atrocities bill in monsoon session of Parliament

By Our Representative
The Narendra Modi government -- which allowed a more stringent Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Ordinance, promulgated by the previoius UPA government in March 2014, to lapse after it came to power -- wants to "secure" Dalit votes for the forthcoming Bihar assembly polls. According to sources, it has "decided" to introduce the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill this monsoon session of Parliament.
The move is particularly significant, as the Dalits constitute about eight per cent of the Bihar population. Also, a new category, Mahadalit, has been added to include certain castes which have been allegedly left out of the scheduled castes -- Musahar, Bhuiyan, Dom, Chamar, Dhobi and Nat. Activist Satya Narain Madan categorizes Mahadalits are "the poorest of the poor, majority of them have yet to taste the fruit of development."
Mahadalits, including Dalits, constitute 16 per cent of the state's population. Paswans -- a sub-caste to which Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan belongs -- alone make up four per cent of the state population. Jitan Ram Manjhi, former chief minister who broke away from Nitish Kumar and joined hands with Modi, is also a Mahadalit.
Keen on promulgation of Land Acquisition Ordinance thrice in order to ensure that its amended pro-corporate version does not lapse, the Modi government did not give a similar treatment to the PoA Ordinance. While it did introduce the ordinance as a Bill in Parliament in July last year, the Bill was sent to the a parliamentary standing committee, and allowed the Ordinance to lapse.
However, say sources, the Modi government is now "keen on pushing it" by making a few changes in the UPA's ordinance and wants it to pass in the current session of Parliament. The UPA promulgated the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance on March 4, 2014, just before the Lok Sabha elections were announced.
On one hand, the BJP-led government is is pressure from the opposition, facing criticism from the Congress for sending the Bill to the standing committee despite the fact that most parties have supported it. On the other, the RSS, say reports, is puzzled for another reason. It wants the Modi government to insert provisions that it is not "misused" against members of the upper castes. 
Interestingly, the RSS has found support from a top non-profit body involved in worldfide fight for freedom of expression since 1921, PEN International, which says (click HERE), the anti-atrocities Act's provisions banning “intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate” to Dalits has been "misused" in India.
The UPA ordinance sought to strengthen the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, by adding new categories of actions to be treated as offences. This included forcing an individual from a Dalit community to vote or not to vote for a candidate unlawfully and occupying land belonging to such individuals wrongfully.
The ordinance specified punishment for public servants from other communities who neglect their duties relating to Dalit and Adivasi people, such as not registering a complaint or a first information report. The ordinance mandated the setting up of special courts at the district level, with exclusive public prosecutors for each special court, to speed up the trial process.
The ordinance was promulgated amidst wide feeling among Dalit and Adivasi leaders that the PoA, 1989 had "failed" in deterring crimes. The National Crime Records Bureau data show that cases registered under the Act in conjunction with Indian Penal Code provisions increased from 38,449 in 2010 to 46,114 in 2013, while the conviction rate under it was below 30 per cent.
The parliamentary standing committee tabled its report on the Bill last December, affirming most of its provisions and adding some clauses on special courts for atrocities against women, headed by a woman judge. Yet, the Modi government did not table the Bill for discussion during the budget session, prompting Congress president Sonia Gandhi to protest.

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