Despite a 2015 Amendment to the Prevention of Atrocities Act, Justice Remains Out of Reach to Scheduled Castes

16 May 2016
Chandrakant Gaikwad's body at the Rural Hospital Baramati, Pune.
Priyadarshi Telang
Chandrakant Gaikwad's body at the Rural Hospital Baramati, Pune.
Priyadarshi Telang

On 12 February 2013, Chandrakant Gaikwad was visiting his friend Dada Shivaji Jadhav at his hotel in Jamb village in western Maharashtra. Between nine and ten in the morning, a white Bolero pulled up to the two friends, who were conversing outside. Five men led by Satpal Mahadev Rupanvar, exited the car holding revolvers and began firing bullets, eventually shooting Gaikwad seven times. Jadhav managed to run away, and as he looked back, he saw Rupanvar bludgeoning Gaikwad’s head with a stone. On 25 November 2015, Jadhav told me how after hiding in a nearby riverbed, he had returned to find Gaikwad’s body lying in a pool of blood.

Gaikwad was a Dalit belonging to the Matang caste, which is listed as a Scheduled Caste in India and in his village of 1,250, only around 10 of its scheduled caste citizens own land. He worked with the National Dalit Movement for Justice, helping Dalits who are victims of crimes committed by those outside their community—known under the law as atrocities—file cases under the 1989 Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities Act), or PoA. The NDMJ is a secular, non-party movement of academics, volunteers and organizations headed by Dalits to initiate advocacy in mass action to address the issues of caste based discrimination. Gaikwad’s surviving colleagues and family members told me that his death was a direct consequence of his work.

Months before the murder, Rupanvar—a member of the Dhangar community, which makes up 60 percent of Jamb’s population—and his friends began harassing Jadhav. In the written complaint that Jadhav filed after the murder, he said that “Satpal came to my hotel at night along with his friends and had dinner—when I demanded for bill, he forcefully broken my drawers and grab money.”

Since 2012, Gaikwad had been helping Jadhav file a case against Rupanvar under the PoA act. Earlier that year, Gaikwad had also been a witness in a case against Rupanvar. Rupanvar and his associates began threatening Gaikwad and Jadhav, allegedly going so far as to publicly state that they were planning to kill them. Jadhav said that after Rupanvar’s threats, he and Gaikwad went to the police, who did not take their complaints seriously, or offer them any sort of protection.

The police inaction that Gaikwad and Jadhav faced is an example of one of many systematic obstacles Dalits face in their interactions with the law, and which the PoA has not completely rectified. Although the PoA act guarantees atrocity victims legal recourse, deficiencies within the act and its implementation allow the potential for miscarriages of justice at every stage: from the moment the First Information Report is filed, to the crime’s investigation, to the trial, and even in the appeals process.

Ella Weisser Ella Weisser is an intern at The Caravan

Keywords: Dalit prevention of atrocities