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Atrocities on Dalits

A shortcoming of the country's approach towards the welfare of dalits is that action on atrocities are mostly seen as a law and order issue, divorcing them from the larger strategy for social justice. Atrocities do represent a significant hindrance to socio-economic mobility of the community. Policy-makers should take into account that ending violence on dalits is a basic requirement for success of redistributive policies, rather than assuming that these policies by themselves would result in an end to violence/discrimination.

Atrocities on Dalits What the District Level Data Say on Society-State Complicity

A shortcoming of the country’s approach towards the welfare of dalits is that action on atrocities are mostly seen as a law and order issue, divorcing them from the larger strategy for social justice. Atrocities do represent a significant hindrance to socio-economic mobility of the community. Policy-makers should take into account that ending violence on dalits is a basic requirement for success of redistributive policies, rather than assuming that these policies by themselves would result in an end to violence/discrimination.

DEBASHIS CHAKRABORTY, D SHYAM BABU, MANASHI CHAKRAVORTY

I
n India, untouchability has been abolished and discrimination on the grounds of caste stands prohibited. In addition, there is a “Directive” to the state to promote socio-economic development of dalits and other weaker sections. Guided by this principle, during the past five decades the government has introduced several developmental programmes with special budgetary allocations to help the underprivileged sections, including an extensive scheme of “affirmative action”, encompassing reservations in education, public sector employment as well as legislative bodies. Even after five and a half decades of state intervention, dalits (and tribals) remain at the bottom of most human development indicators. They face an additional handicap of caste discrimination and violence. What makes dalits a distinct group is not so much their poverty because poor people are found in most social groups, but the endemic violence (“atrocities”) they are subjected to. The affirmative action regime to improve their lot is unprecedented in terms of its extent and duration, while caste discrimination and violence they suffer are equally unprecedented. The irony of the issue, if it were so, is that almost all moves to help dalits emanate from the state and all their problems are society-driven.

Although all factors responsible for economic development are technically identical for dalits and non-dalits, the prevalence of poverty among the former in rural areas is still significantly higher than the latter.1 Despite myriad policies and schemes aimed at ameliorating their lot, dalits still suffer from not only poverty but from discrimination and also systemic violence. Given the high prevalence of atrocities (as registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of) Atrocities Act;2 hereafter SC/ST Act) violence on dalits ought to be taken as a unique factor affecting their mobility. In fact, more than the number of cases, their low convictionrate is an area of concern. By atrocities one must assume not only physical violence but also the social setting that encourages and condones violence on the community. Though scholars and social reformers emphasised from time to time that there is no religious sanction for untouchability, there is a widespread notion in society that dalits are born inferior and any attempt by them to move away from their place will lead to social disharmony.

It deserves to be noted that atrocities are exclusively a rural phenomenon; although even a couple of decades ago atrocities in urban areas were reported [Joshi 1982]. Violence on dalits usually erupts involving disputes over access to public goods or common property resources, and wages and land rights. A typical dispute, wherein a dalit may be the victim or the aggressor, usually leads to caste polarisation (dalits vs non-dalits) and when no settlement is found, results in intimidation, social boycott or violence. Comparing the crimes against SCs under various categories in 2001 and 2002, it is observed that while the number of crimes reported under SC/ST Act has gone down, those under the Protection of Civil Rights Act (PCR Act) has gone up. Though there is a tendency among police not to use the more stringent SC/ST Act, the complexity of the issue cannot be ignored, either. Furthermore, cases without violence are left mostly unreported, though here also dalits are reminded of their low social standing as well as economic dependence, just like in the case of atrocities with violence. Most literature on the subject takes note of these concerns, albeit in a piecemeal manner. There is a need to understand atrocities in a broader context but, to do so, one must identify the locations and reasons attracting atrocities. Because ending atrocities appears to be the sine qua non for any welfare policy to succeed.

However, the reported number of atrocity cases is only a partial or sometimes even misleading picture. For example, it is widely held that the number of unregistered cases of atrocities might range between one and one and a half times that of the registered cases [Pai 2000]. An isolated incident leads to caste polarisation and violence when the dalits in question are assertive, which not only provokes group response from non-dalits but also results in police complaint by the former. Now, dalit assertion is possible when they enjoy some degree of economic independence or some of their relations are educated and in state employment (even if they are residing elsewhere). The illiterate dalits in a village, completely dependent on non-dalits for sustenance, are unlikely to be assertive, and therefore, would not attract atrocities. Hence, the absence of atrocities in an area may represent two diametrically opposite situations: either the dalits there enjoy harmonious, if not equal, relations with non-dalits, or they are too weak/too few in numbers and the non-dalits exercise enough oppression to not have to trigger an atrocity. It is difficult, for example, to assess atrocities as a hindrance factor from the reported cases in states like Haryana or Rajasthan where society is more tradition-bound.

Economic and Political Weekly June 17, 2006

Diagram 1: Top 50 Atrocity-Prone Districts in Rural IndiaDiagram 1: Top 50 Atrocity-Prone Districts in Rural IndiaDiagram 1: Top 50 Atrocity-Prone Districts in Rural IndiaDiagram 1: Top 50 Atrocity-Prone Districts in Rural IndiaDiagram 1: Top 50 Atrocity-Prone Districts in Rural India

(Average for 2001 and 2002)

Index of crimes committedIndex of crimes committedIndex of crimes committedIndex of crimes committedIndex of crimes committed

II
nn
dd
ee
xx
oo
ff
cc
rr
ii
mm
eses
coco
mm
mm
ii
tt
tt
eded

GG
rr
eatereater
thth
anan
44
00
00

Greater than 400

200200
-400-400

200-400

140140
-200-200

140-200

BHABHA
RR
AA
TT
PP
URUR

WW

ALAL
LL
AA
HH
ABADABAD

LALA
MM

PP

Source: Based on Crime in India.

Regional Distribution of AtrocitiesRegional Distribution of AtrocitiesRegional Distribution of AtrocitiesRegional Distribution of AtrocitiesRegional Distribution of Atrocities

The literature on atrocities shows that it is an all-India phenomenon, i e, it is spread over most regions with significant dalit population, including developed states like Punjab [Ram 2004; Jodhka 2004]. In addition to actual cases, the social boycott, which often lasts for a considerable period of time, puts tremendous pressure on the growth potential of the community. Social boycott (against dalits) was in place for nearly a year in an Andhra Pradesh village and for two years in a Gujarat village.3 It has been noted that irrespective of the location of the caste polarisation, the basic characteristics are the same anywhere, “whether caste clashes are social, economic,or political in nature, they are premised on the same basic principle: any attempt to alter village customs or to demand land, increased wages, or political rights leads to violence and economic retaliation on the part of those most threatened by changes in the status quo...Dalits are cut off from their land and employment during social boycotts.”4 The distribution of atrocities in 50 rural districts is shown in Diagram 1.

As observed from the diagram (which charts the district averages for 2001 and 2002) the maximum number of crimes (greater than 400) is reported in the districts of Allahabad and Lucknow in UP, and in Bharatpur in Rajasthan. A high incidence (in the range 200-400) are mainly reported from mostly central districts of UP, central Rajasthan, northern Madhya Pradesh and parts of Andhra Pradesh. Of the 25 districts in this category, 22 are located in UP (10), MP (8) and Rajasthan (4). As such Karimnagar and Mahaboobnagar in AP are the only districts south of the Vindhyas with a high number of atrocities. Although it is not shown in the map, we observe that a moderately high crime incidence (50139) is concentrated mostly in the remaining areas of UP, Rajasthan, coastal Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and in certain districts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and parts of Orissa and Assam fall under modest crime occurrences

(1-50). The lowest crime rates (less than one) are observed in the districts spread over West Bengal, Assam and parts of Punjab.

AnalysisAnalysisAnalysisAnalysisAnalysis

Given this background, in the following we test the hypothesis that atrocities are triggered in areas characterised by upward mobility among the dalits, and not in the poorer areas. We assume that incidence of atrocities is a function of the local poverty level, proportion of population dependent on agriculture and the spread of education in a particular district. The underlying assumption is that atrocity cases are likely to be higher, where people are dependent on traditional modes of livelihood (mostly on agriculture), and are assertive owing to general economic development. For the analysis, we consider 334 rural districts spread over 16 major states.5 In the regression analysis, we generate state specific dummies in order to capture the systemic differences owing to heterogeneity. The absorbed dummies enter the regression as a consolidated variable, the significance of which could be judged from the F-statistic reported in the regression analysis. We obtain the following regression relationship with robust standard errors: Att = 108.35 – 1.61 (BPL) + 4.10 (SCDR) – 1.20 (SCLR)

(*) (***) ...(1)

(R2 = 0.39, F-Statistic = 8.01) where Att is the proportional reporting of atrocity cases in a particular district as a share of total number of cases (average over 2001 and 2002, from Crime in India); BPL is the proportion of below poverty line households in a district (from NSSO 1999-2000); SCDR is the proportion of SC households dependent on agriculture (cultivators and agricultural labourers taken together) in the district (from Census 2001); and SCLR is the literacy rate of the scheduled caste households in a district (from Census 2001).

The negative relationship between the dependent variable and the first explanatory variable shows that the incidence of reported atrocities is higher in districts with lower BPL ratio. In other words, relatively well-off districts are characterised by more atrocities, contrary to the popular belief that the caste violence is usually targeted at the most vulnerable sections, arguably localised in the poorer regions. On the other hand, the positive relationship between atrocities and primary activities (agriculture) reaffirms the notion that people dependent on a traditional mode of living are in general subjected to this phenomenon.6 Finally, although the coefficient of literacy bears a negative sign, the relationship is not statistically significant, perhaps implying the incidence of atrocities in districts with widely varying literacy trends. It is confirmed by the district literacy profile of the top 50 rural districts in terms of incidence of atrocities; of these, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh respectively account for 19, 13, 12 and three districts. There is one district each from Bihar, Orissa and Karnataka. It is observed by looking at the data that a number of districts at both ends of the literacy rate are marked with relatively higher occurrence of atrocities. The high value of the F-statistic shows that the combined effect of the state-specific dummies is significant.

Delayed Justice Reinforces ViolenceDelayed Justice Reinforces ViolenceDelayed Justice Reinforces ViolenceDelayed Justice Reinforces ViolenceDelayed Justice Reinforces Violence

Given the relatively more frequent occurrence of atrocities on dalits in the rural belt, the ability of the community to experience

Economic and Political Weekly June 17, 2006

Diagram 2: A Comparison between the Pendency RatiosDiagram 2: A Comparison between the Pendency RatiosDiagram 2: A Comparison between the Pendency RatiosDiagram 2: A Comparison between the Pendency RatiosDiagram 2: A Comparison between the Pendency Ratios
pendency ratio is obtained by dividing the number of pending trials at year-end by the total cases brought for trial. Conviction

100

rate, on the other hand, is percentage of cases leading to conviction.

90

As per the Crime in India data, although charge-sheeting rate in case of all four categories has improved over the years,

80

pendency and conviction rates with regard to atrocity cases are major areas of concern.8 In Diagram 2, the pendency ratio of the

70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002

SC/ST (Prohibition of Atrocities Act)• Total Cognisable Crimes under IPC

Percentages

crimes under SC/ST and PCR acts and the total cognisable crimes under SLL and IPC is compared for the period 1995-2002. It is observed that while the ratio is consistently more than 80 per cent in cases under the SC/ST Act as well as the IPC cases, the same under PCR Act and SLL crimes are 77 and around 50 per cent,respectively. In terms of categorisation, atrocity cases and IPC cases are similar in the sense that they mostly deal with violence whereas SLL cases are predominantly non-violent in nature.9However, there are more pending atrocity cases than even those under IPC. The delay in delivery of justice hurts the poorer households (dalits in the current context) much more severely than the well-off sections. Moreover, pendency in SC/ST and PCR Acts is increasing over the last decade, indicating a clear

lethargy on the part of the government.

Protection of Civil Rights Act

Total Cognisable Crimes under SLL

In Diagram 3, the conviction rate of crimes under four cat-

Source: Based on Data in Crimes in India.

egories, similar to the earlier analysis, is reported. It is observed

Diagram 3: A Comparison between Conviction RatesDiagram 3: A Comparison between Conviction RatesDiagram 3: A Comparison between Conviction RatesDiagram 3: A Comparison between Conviction RatesDiagram 3: A Comparison between Conviction Rates

that the conviction rate (for the SCs) under the SC/ST (30.5) and PCR (19.7) Acts is significantly lower than under SLL (86 per cent) as well as IPC crimes (40.6). This trend, coupled with a high pendency ratio, needs to be addressed. The low conviction

rate signifies a lackadaisical attitude of the state machinery. Furthermore, with the cases running for years it becomes extremely difficult for the prosecution to prove a particular case, as often the key witnesses are not available after a point of time

owing to various reasons (e g, migration to other areas for livelihood, etc). One positive sign is that the conviction rate is relatively higher in states with higher incidence of violations under the SC/ST Act. We obtain a positive rank correlation

Percentages

60

40

20

0

coefficient (0.5) between the occurrence of atrocities and conviction rate rankings of the states. Nonetheless, in a couple of states the conviction rate is quite low despite having a significant proportion of atrocities, e g, Karnataka (11.51 per cent of all-India reported cases), Andhra Pradesh (7.41per cent) and Gujarat

(4.88 per cent).10 The absence of “certainty of punishment” in

SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) • Total Cognisable Crimes under SLL Total Cognisable Crimes under IPC

Protection of Civil Rights Act Source: As in Diagram 2.

upward mobility is affected significantly. Not only do these incidents affect the economic life of the dalits but the absence of timely punishment of the culprits creates a permissive environment for similar cases in future. The state could play a major role in this sphere by enhancing the level of effective governance, namely, by strengthening law and order machinery. A speedy disposal of cases is the basic requirement for minimising crimes on the community. However, as reflected from the following analysis, there is enormous scope for improvement of the current level of governance.

In Diagrams 2 and 3 we compare the pendency ratio and conviction rate between the SC/ST Act, PCR Act, and the total cognisable crimes under Special and Local Laws (SLL) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).7 There are two crucial steps involved in the access to justice procedure. After First Information Report (FIR) is lodged, the police investigate and file the charge sheet against the accused. This is followed by the trial in a court. The these states contributes significantly to continuance of atrocities.

ConclusionConclusionConclusionConclusionConclusion

One shortcoming of the country’s approach towards welfare of dalits is that atrocities are mostly taken as a law and order problem, divorcing them from the larger strategy for social justice. Atrocities do represent a significant hindrance to socioeconomic mobility of the community. Policy-makers should take into account that ending violence on dalits is a basic requirement for success of the redistributive policies, rather than assuming that those policies would result in termination of violence/discrimination. The evidence suggests that violence is directed at relatively better off dalits and to that extent atrocities are a response of the society to dalit mobility. Not only are atrocities directed at better off dalits, but also in districts where their population is higher than their national average (16.2 per cent). For example, of the 28 problem districts, 24 districts have a dalit population between 17.4 and 31.9 per cent. Most atrocities in southern states fall in this category.

Economic and Political Weekly June 17, 2006

Several improvements are needed at policy and implementation levels. It has de facto become the discretion of the police to register an atrocity case under the SC/ST or PCR Act, with a clear preference for the latter as it is seen to be less stringent compared to the former. There is no justification to persist with two laws for similar crimes. Yet another problem, not recorded and hence difficult to substantiate is not registering an atrocity case under either of these two acts but to register it as an IPC case, wrongly implying the incident as a group clash. The relatively fewer number of atrocities in western UP, Haryana and Tamil Nadu, all notorious for oppressive conditions, is difficult to explain. Similarly, zero cases in parts of West Bengal and Assam cannot be mistaken for peaceful relations between dalits and others.

Furthermore, it is time to acknowledge that a high chargesheeting rate in itself does not indicate delivery of justice. The need to enforce speedy disposal of the SC/ST Act related cases stems from the fact that the probability of gathering conclusive evidence is drastically lowered with passage of time. Moreover, keeping a case pending indefinitely, as had happened with regard to the Tsundur atrocity case in Andhra Pradesh, is likely to keep the local atmosphere vitiated. Appropriate judicial reform in order to lower the proportion of the pending trials in this category is the need of the hour.

It is time policy-makers realised that atrocities are society’s response to dalit mobility and factored it in the welfare policies, whatever they might be.

mr:

Email: debashis@iift.ac.in

dsbabu@rgfindia.com

manashi@rgfindia.com

NotesNotesNotesNotesNotes

1 In the NSSO 55th round, the average per capita consumption expenditure

in the rural areas (food and non-food items taken together) stood at

Rs 418.89 and Rs 577.56 for the “dalit” and the “general category”

households respectively. NSSO, Difference in Level of Consumption

among Socio-Economic Groups: 1999-2000, NSS 55th Round (Ministry

of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, New

Delhi, 2001. Also see Sundaram and Tendulkar (2003).

2 See National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Crime

in India (various issues); National Human Rights Commission, Report on Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes, National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi, 2002, pp 1-4.

3 National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights,Dalit Human Rights Violations: Atrocities against Dalits in India, National Public Hearing, April 18-19, 2000, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Volume I, Case Papers: Summary, Jury’s Interim Observations and Recommendations, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, Ahmedabad, May 2000, pp 246-56.

4 Broken People: Caste Violence against India’s ‘Untouchables’, Human Rights Watch, New York, 1999, pp 29-30.

5 We identify “rural” districts where the proportion of urban population is lower than the national average. The selected states are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. According to the 2001 Census, these 16 states account for approximately 90 per cent of the entire SC population in the country.

6 The regression analysis has been repeated with all the 442 districts of the selected 16 states and the coefficients of the later analysis resembles the signs of the same reported in equation (1).

7 Special and Local Laws (SLL) is a category distinct from IPC crimes and both SC/ST Act and PCR Act come under this.

8 It is observed from Crime in India (2002) that while the national average charge-sheeting rate for total cognisable crimes under SLL is 97.4 per cent; the same under SC/ST Act in aggregate, for the SCs and the STs stand at 93.5, 92.8 and 98 per cent, respectively. Similarly, the chargesheeting rate under the PCR Act in aggregate, for the SCs and the STs are 98.1, 98 and 100 per cent, respectively.

9 For example, of the 22 acts under SLL, only five deal with violence. They are, in addition to SC/ST and PCR Acts, TADA, Dowry Prohibition Act and Sati Prevention Act.

10 Figures in parenthesis are proportional atrocities committed during 19972002 within the state in question.

ReferencesReferencesReferencesReferencesReferences

Jodhka, Surinder S (2004): ‘Sikhism and the Caste Question: Dalits and Their Politics in Contemporary Punjab’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol 38, Nos 1 and 2, p 169.

Joshi, Barbara (1982): ‘Whose Law, Whose Order: ‘Untouchables’, Social Violence and the State in India’, Asian Survey, Vol 22, No (7), July, p 679.

Pai, Sudha (2000): ‘Changing Socio-Economic and Political Profile of Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh’, Journal of Indian School of Political Economy, Vol XII, Nos 3 and 4, July-December, p 419.

Ram, Ronki, (2004): ‘Untouchability in India with a Difference: Ad Dharm, Dalit Assertion, and Caste Conflicts in Punjab’, Asian Survey Vol XLIV, No 6, November-December, pp 895-912.

Sundaram, K and Suresh D Tendulkar (2003): ‘Poverty among Social and Economic Groups in India in 1990s’, Economic and Political Weekly, December 13, p 5267.

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