PoA Act: Court Judgments Reinforce Public Perception
By K R Ranjith – KANNUR Published: 07th March 2014 11:17 AM Last Updated: 07th March 2014 11:29 AM
Even as the conviction rate in cases of atrocities against members of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) community remains poor, the public perception is that a good majority of these cases are false. Unfortunately, some court verdicts and interpretations of the SC/ST PoA act directly or indirectly helped to reinforce this public view, legal experts and rights activists said.

In a verdict in March, 2013, a division bench of Kerala High Court comprising justice T R Ramachandran Nair and justice A V Ramakrishna Pillai ruled that no person can be convicted for atrocities against members of scheduled castes or tribes unless it was proved that the offence was committed with caste prejudice.

With this observation, the court scrapped the charges under SC/ST PoA Act against two hostel employees who were accused of raping a 12-year-old tribal girl.

Though the court upheld a lower court verdict on charges of rape, it ruled that there was “nothing on record to show that the crime was perpetrated by both the accused for the sole reason that the victim belonged to Scheduled Tribe community.” “Some verdicts and interpretations of law are disturbing,” said Justice P N Vijayakumar, Chairman, State SC/ST Commission. For example, a court in a recent verdict in a rape case, pronounced that the PoA Act does not apply as the perpetrators were not aware that she was a Dalit when they assaulted her.

“Yes, to some extent the bias exists in judiciary too, for the simple reason that they have not come from outer space,” said Dr Anand Teltumbde, eminent scholar, rights activist and author. Caste bias is an all-pervasive virus and it affects all unknowingly to various degrees. Many a court judgement could be cited, he said.

“Even in Khairlanji, the lower court played strategically to the political needs of the time in awarding 2 death sentences and 6 lifers although the case was fairly buggered up by the prosecution. This keeps happening. It is not in the PoA Act or for dalits alone, the judiciary’s bias surfaces in all matters dealing with the lower classes,” said Dr Teltumbde, who authored ‘Khairlanji: A Strange And Bitter Crop,’ on the infamous rape and murder of a dalit family in Khairlanji, Maharashtra, the State SC/ST commissioner, however points fingers at the system and the society. “The courts take decisions on the basis of evidences and witness accounts. Who would appear as witness for these poor people? Our society has not fully wiped out the remnants of casteism,” he said.

By the time a case reaches the judiciary, it gets corrupted, says Teltumbde.

“The bias permeates through all strata. The police, the most. The investigation deliberately spoils the case. The judicial bias can be corrected at the higher court but if the case is spoiled in the investigation itself, nothing can be done later,” said Teltumbde. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 99 rape cases were reported in SC/ST category alone in the state in 2012 and trial in 49 cases were completed. Out of this, only two cases resulted in conviction, and all the accused in 47 cases were acquitted or discharged.

And worse, Kerala recorded the highest rate of rape (15.81) of the tribal women in the entire country in 2012. One out of every 15 tribal females was raped. It also reported the highest rate of crime against tribes (25.6 pc) as against the national average (5.7 pc) in the year.

Read more here – http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/PoA-Act-Court-Judgments-Reinforce-Public-Perception/2014/03/07/article2095265.ece#.Uxtj57XzLUF