An in-depth study of Dalit murders in Tamil Nadu since 2010 has brought to the front discrepancies on the part of police while registering cases, examining witnesses, filing charge sheets and finally, not going on appeal when the cases end in acquittal.

‘Evidence,’ a human rights organisation, took 102 cases of Dalit murders reported in 2010-14 across the State and found that in 36 per cent cases, the police had not invoked provisions under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. In 99 per cent cases, the police failed to file charge sheet within the stipulated time and in more than half of the incidents, the accused were not arrested as they got anticipatory bail.

Though 107 Dalits were murdered in Tamil Nadu in 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data had documented only 43 cases, the organisation alleged. This was because the police had only registered cases under Section 302 (murder) of IPC and not invoked provisions of the Act.

Quoting Section 3 (2) (v) of the Act, ‘Evidence’ executive director A. Kathir said whoever, not being a member of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, committed any offence punishable with imprisonment for a term of ten years or more (under IPC) against a person or property of a Dalit, the accused should also be booked under the Act which provided for punishment with imprisonment for life and with fine.

“A majority of Dalit murders is a result of conspiracy involving a group of people. In many cases, one person surrenders while others involved in the case get anticipatory bail. There is high rate of pendency and low rate of disposal of cases booked under the Act. The conviction rate is just 5-7 per cent. The State also fails in its responsibility by not going on appeal where there is an acquittal. On the contrary, the convicted persons go on appeal…,” Mr. Kathir pointed out.

Citing instances where witnesses turned hostile or complainants forced to withdraw their complaints, he said 73 of the 102 Dalits murdered in 2010-14 were coolies, 12 were employed in private firms and two in the government. Of the 27 women murdered, seven were sexually abused, he said.

The study involved several teams that toured the State and interacted with victims, their family members, advocates, police personnel and even the accused persons. The teams perused and took copies of over 5,500 documents that included complaints, First Information Report, post-mortem reports etc., Mr. Kathir added.

A senior police official on condition of anonymity said in cases that ended up in acquittal, going on appeal would not serve any purpose if the prosecution witness turned hostile during trial. In cases where a Dalit was among the accused, the police did not invoke provisions under the Act.

“Offences against Dalits are dealt with seriously and there are separate wings in the police department to monitor and review such cases. The trial is conducted in a special court for SC/ST cases. The Additional Director-General of Police (Social Justice and Human Rights) supervises investigation in each district that has a Deputy Superintendent of Police (Protection of Civil Rights) for the purpose,” the official said.