Claiming that the BJP-led NDA government is “tampering with the Constitution”, several Dalit and tribal groups have planned a rally in the national capital next month. The proposed July 17 demonstration is being organised after a similar event in Telangana’s Warrangal that reported a turnout of three lakh people last week.
Leaders of Dalit and tribal organisations have invited non-BJP parties to the Delhi event on July 17—the date that marks a 1985 attack on Dalit protesters in Karamchedu of Andhra Pradesh. That clash claimed six lives, while dozens of fellow demonstrators were injured.
“All Dalit MPs, MLAs and leaders are welcome to join the event,” Bhaktacharan Das, a former Lok Sabha (Congress) MP for Kalahandi in Odisha, said on Friday. As for those with the BJP, which he claimed was responsible for the dilution of the law to protect Dalits and tribals, the leaders can join if they quit the saffron party, he told Outlook.
The Warrangal event on June 10 began at in the early evening and went on till close to midnight amid spells of heavy showers. Its organisers had named the event ‘Dalita Girijana Simhagarjana’, which literally means “the lion-like roar of Dalits and tribals”.
The rally was a protest against the Supreme Court’s March 9 guidelines stemming from the observation that the country’s SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act was being misused, and directed that arrests under this 1989 law will now require prior sanction after a preliminary inquiry. The protestors claim that the judgment has diluted the law, and want to pressure the government to bring it back.
The new SC directive had triggered calls for a nationwide strike by various groups that work with Dalits and tribals. Among them was the June 10 rally a Warrangal. “There, tribals and Dalits participated in large numbers,” said Belliah Naik, a Telangana-based Dalit leader. “It is rare in Andhra Pradesh or Telangana to see people of both the Mala and Madiga castes come together.” For, historically there has been friction between the two communities: one has demanded sub-classification within the Dalit communities and the other has opposed it.
“Apart from BJP and its allies, we will get all parties together to pressure the government to enforce the law yet again,” Manda Krishna Madiga, a leader of the Madiga Reservation Poratha Samiti that was one of the main organisers of the Warangal rally, told Outlook. At the June 10 event, he had said that the Modi government should add the special law for protection of Dalits and tribals into the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution to screen it from judicial review.
Leaders at the rally in Warrangal had pointed out that, in many cases, if arrest is not carried out immediately after the alleged caste abuse, the privileged communities could pressure the victims to withdraw the cases. “An arrest also gives an assurance to the victim that his rights are safeguarded,” said a Dalit lawyer who had attended the event.
Ex-MP Das notes that the number of incidents of atrocities on Dalits and tribals are more than a lakh for 2014-16, as per NCRB records. “At the same time, the number of cases that were registered in such incidents is around 6,000 ever since the BJP was voted to power at the Centre,” he says. “The year before that, there were more than 13,000 cases registered. BJP MPs Savitri Bai Phule and Udit Raj have also noted the continuing atrocities under the current government.”
This shows that the law is being diluted and the centre put up a very weak fight in this case before the Supreme Court, he says. “It was said that the all-India prosecution and conviction rate for cases of atrocities against SC/ST is around 27 percent. That does not mean the cases are false, it could mean poor prosecution and the rate of prosecution and conviction in other crimes is also quite high,” says Das.
For the Simhagarjana rally, representatives of the 25 organising groups had conducted a few hundred interactions at villages and towns across Telangana. The June 10 event saw speeches by Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge, former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, CPI leaders D. Raja and S. Sudhakar Reddy besides Prakash Ambedkar, an ex-MP.
Its organisers have started a similar mobilisation for the event in Delhi. Some noted leaders in the capital city have assured their presence, even as the organisers want to Congress President Rahul Gandhi to address the event.
The organisers are seeking reservation in promotions in government services. “At the level of secretary to the Government of India, there are three officers of tribal origin and one Dalit officer,” says Das. “The total number of posts for joint secretaries and assistant secretaries are in thousands, while there are 17 joint secretaries from amongst tribal people and 17 officers who are Dalits. There are three Dalit officers posted as assistant secretaries and nine officers of tribal origin.”
Das claims that around 1.25 crore people have been given pattas (land-ownership documents) under the Forest Rights Act, but there is no assistance from banks and other institutions to develop these plots, rendering the deeds useless. “There is also no state policy for their economic development through this land,” he adds.