Skip to main content

Anti-Atrocities Act's provision is vague, overbroad, can be "ripe for abuse", change it: PEN International

Ashis Nandy: Victim of
Anti-Atrocities Act "abuse"
By Our Representative
In a development which is likely to please those who have long argued against giving special treatment to dalits and adivasis, but may lead to some angry reactions among senior dalit activists, a top world body which has been involved in campaign for freedom of expression since 1921 has asked the Government of India to drop certain provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which have been willfully "abused".
In a report, “Imposing Silence” (click HERE to read story), PEN International, which holds special consultative status at the UN and associate status at UNESCO, has said that Anti-Atrocities Act bans expression that “intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate” a member of a scheduled caste or tribe, but this has been misused.
"Violation of the Anti-Atrocities Act results in a minimum of six months imprisonment and up to a maximum of three years, as well as a fine. Notably, the provisions apply to expression that does not necessarily rise to the level of inciting hatred, but simply requires the intention to humiliate", PEN says, raising the objection.
"Moreover", PEN underlines, "There is an overlap between the Anti-Atrocities Act and Sections 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). A major issue surrounding freedom of expression and hate speech in India is the fact that there are multiple other pieces of legislation that potentially capture the same expressive content, facilitating overcharging."
While conceding that "majority of cases under the Atrocities Act are entirely appropriate and involve prosecution of violent actions against members of protected groups", PEN says, "However, the Act is occasionally used against individuals for expression that arguably does not rise to the level of hate speech." It adds, "Again, the vague and overbroad language of the Act, which targets humiliating rather than hateful speech, makes it ripe for abuse."
Giving examples, PEN says, "In late 2014, Secretary of the Lok Janshakti Party, Vishnu Paswan, filed a case against Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav. Paswan alleged that Yadav’s comments about the educational and political qualification of chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi hurt the sentiments of Dalits and people of musahar castes. The statement wasn't offensive -- "How can he become the CM as he has not seen books and school?”
In another instance, in 2009, the Hindi film "Delhi-6" was "accused of containing language deemed to be insulting to the entire Balmiki Samaj, a Scheduled Caste" and "it took until 2013 for the case to be resolved and for the Court to situate the comments within the broader purpose of the film which was actually to curb offensive practices."
In a third incident, in 2013, "academic Ashis Nandy, was charged under the Act for comments he made at the Jaipur Literature Festival. He was alleged to have stated that people from the scheduled tribes and scheduled castes were the 'most corrupt'. Nandy clarified his comments and noted that he had meant to draw attention to the fact that “most of the people getting caught in corruption charges belong to marginalised sections, as they don’t have the means to save themselves unlike people from upper castes.“
Comments PEN, "The charges filed against Nandy required him to report to the police for questioning. Since he had the means to retain a lawyer to challenge the allegations, Nandy made an urgent appeal to the Supreme Court arguing that there was no mala fide intent or purpose on his part to make a comment in order to insult or humiliate a member of a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe.The Supreme Court stayed the arrest."

Comments

TRENDING

Hindus to be 'sent' to Kashmir? Despite Israeli settlements, peace eludes the region

By Anand K Sahay*
Curfew, news and communications blackout, transportation shut-down... News reports from Kashmir are worrying. So are the views relayed through the media, especially television. Old-fashioned repression seems to be consorting comfortably with expressions of concern “for our Kashmiri brethren”. We are looking at Orwell’s 1984 in the making.

Dholera 'inundated': Gujarat govt tries selling low lying area as top smart city site

Counterview Desk
Even as the Dholera Special Investment Region Regional Development Authority (DSIRDA) of the Gujarat government was busy organising a junket for Gujarat-based journalists for the area sought to be sold as an ideal special investment region (SIR) for industrialists, well-known farmers' activist Sagar Rabari has wondered why no investor has so far agreed to put in money in an area situated in Ahmedabad district along the Gulf of Khambhat.

Congress' anti-democratic laws led to Modi govt's 'Constitutional' changes: Scholars

Counterview Desk
A large number of academics* said to be belonging to several Indian and international institutions, even as taking strong exception to the Narendra Modi government's alleged move to amend the Constitution through "illegitimate" means, have taken strong exception to their colleagues in academia who we have become "all too accustomed to adopting a calculated silence in the face of such indignities."

Savarkar 'opposed' Bhagat Singh's, Netaji's dream of India, supported British war efforts

By Shamsul Islam*
In a shocking development, the student wing of the RSS put the busts of martyrs Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose with Savarkar's on one pedestal at the University of Delhi late in the night on August 20, 2019. Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life for a socialist-democratic-secular republic and Netaji raised Azad Hind Fauj (INA) consisting of people of all religions and regions for armed liberation of India.

UN experts object to GoI move to 'reinforce' trend of prosecution, eviction of tribals

Counterview Desk
In a report sent to the Government of India, three United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs, expressing "concerns" over the failure to ensure "adequate" implementation of the India Forest Rights Act (FRA), have regretted that the Government of India has not cared to reply their previous communications on this.

Modi's Gujarati mind? Why govt move to 'sell-off' defence PSUs isn't in national interest

By Sandeep Pandey*
The Standing Committee on Defence, 2017-18, of the 16th Lok Sabha highlights the idea of Buy Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured). The Committee expressed concern over the import content of equipments produced and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories (OFs) and defence Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) because of the dependence it creates for military hardware on foreign suppliers.

Can't go to court with RTI information, rule Ahmedabad authorities: Kankaria accident

By Pankti Jog*
In a shocking reply to an application filed by me, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) authorities have said that the information provided under the Right to Information (RT) Act should be used in court or in a judicial process. The Act is known to be a major tool that enables citizens to seek certified copies of documents, records from any public authority of state and Central government within 30 days, as per provisions of the Act.

RTI Act holy cow for Govt of India? Official insists, don't ask why, when, what, where

By Pankti Jog*
The Government of India appears to have begun treating the Right to Information (RTI) Act as a holy cow. Its officials seem to believe that the Act is a sacred law, under which people shouldn't be questioning its functioning. One recalls what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while addressing an RTI convention in 2015: “Why should government wait for people to ask information, we will have all information out in the domain, we have nothing to hide."

Central Gujarat effluent channel 'releasing' highly polluted industrial wastewater: PM told

Counterview Desk
Senior environmentalists of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), Vadodara, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Gujarat chief minister, the Gujarat chief secretary, and senior Government of India and Gujarat government officials dealing with environment, pollution and climate change have said that the authorities’ response their pleas to take action against the leakages and flow of polluted wastewater from the effluent channels of Central Gujarat industrial areas has met with complete inertia.

As submergence stares Narmada valley, Patkar says: With powerful in throne, we're helpless

Counterview Desk
Well-known anti-dam organization, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), plans to begin its “Resist Illegal Submergence in Narmada Valley” satyagraha on August 21 at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, amidst news that the situation in the valley is “critical”, with two persons having already died in flood-related incidents in the upstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam.