Politics

Maharashtra May Seek Changes to Atrocities Act Following Maratha Protests

People participate in a protest organised by the Maratha Karnti Morcha in Nashik. Credit: PTI

People participate in a protest organised by the Maratha Karnti Morcha in Nashik. Credit: PTI

The BJP-led Maharashtra government is going to recommend that the Centre modify the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to make sure that the law is not “misused”, Indian Express reported. This has been one of the primary demands of the Maratha protests across the state after the rape and murder of a girl from the community in July in Ahmednagar district’s Kopardi village.

According to what sources told Indian Express, the state will suggest that a verification be done before anyone is charged under the Act, to prevent people from being “falsely implicated”.

“A group of ministers, led by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, has started the process of addressing the demands – not just of Marathas but also of Dalits and OBCs, who are growing increasingly apprehensive in the face of the Maratha show of might,” a source told the newspaper. Sources also said that the state government is planning to look at data and speak to

Union minister for social justice and empowerment Ramdas Athawale said, “If the state government brings to the fore some shortcomings (in the Act) which need a re-look to stop its misuse, it can be considered by the Centre. However, there is unanimity that the Act should remain and serve its stated objective to protect the rights of Dalits and tribals.”

“If we find that there are some aspects in the present SC/ST Atrocities Act, which can make it completely flawless and serve the real objective of protecting Dalits and also ensuring Marathas are not subjected to false charges, we will make recommendations to the Centre,” an official from the state’s social justice ministry was quoted by Indian Express as saying.

B.R. Ambedkar’s grandson and president of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, Prakash Ambedkar, who has been a part of several Dalit struggles, raised questions on whether “misuse” of the Act is even possible. “The Atrocities Act was recently amended. Earlier, it was a non-bailable offence, but now it is bailable,” he told Indian Express.

Hindustan Times reported that according to National Crime Records Bureau data, the number of cases registered under the Act in the state has fallen to 2,206 cases in 2014 from 4,756 in 2010. Advocate Keval Uke, general secretary of the National Dalit Movement for Justice, had questioned the Maratha demand based on these numbers. “The act is currently barely being used. How will it be misused? We understand that there is an unwritten missive to the police to minimise the number of crimes registered, and refrain from recording cases under the Atrocities Act,” he told Hindustan Times.

According to an Indian Express report, the Maratha protests have had an anti-Dalit tone. At the Solapur rally  on September 21, the report says, the Maratha Kranti Morcha asked on social media why Dalits needed to hold Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations every half a kilometre. In Ahmednagar, a Maratha volunteer asked what the significance of an Ambedkar flag is.

“The Dalits receive financial compensation for any atrocity committed on them under the Act. To be able to get this money, they have started filing false cases against the Marathas,” a young boy at a Pune rally was quoted as saying in an NDTV report.