What Supreme Court’s dilution of SC/ST Act means for Dalit women
Mumbai: A dilution of the stringent provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is going to affect Dalit women far more than men.
Nearly a fifth of cases registered under the Atrocities Act are crimes against women. If one excludes the category “others” (which includes various miscellaneous crimes), crimes against SC/ST women constitute the biggest category of crimes against SC/STs, data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows. Crimes against SC women include such offences as rape, attempt to rape, kidnapping and abduction to force them to marry, insult to modesty and assault to outrage modesty.
The actual share of crimes against SC women is likely to be higher as gender-disaggregated data has not been made available for other categories of crimes. The official estimate thus provides a lower bound for the offences against Dalit women.
In Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand, crimes against SC women constituted the majority of crimes registered under the Atrocities Act in 2016.
In five other states—Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana, and Kerala—crimes against SC women constituted over a third of cases registered under the Act.
In terms of crime rate, Kerala tops the chart among the top 10 states with the highest share of crimes against SC women, followed by Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Haryana. The crime rates have been calculated using estimated SC female population based on projections from census figures.
One caveat worth noting here is that the under-reporting of crimes may vary across states, and hence figures for different states may not be strictly comparable.
One of the central arguments for amending the Atrocities Act is the low conviction rate in such cases.
But this argument does not hold for crimes against SC women. The conviction rate—or the cases convicted as a proportion of total cases in which trials were completed—for overall crimes against women at 19% is lower than the conviction rate for crimes against SC women at 28%, NCRB data shows.
It is also worth noting that low conviction rates may not always result from false cases; sometimes they may simply be because of lack of effort from the prosecuting officers.
As a previous Plain Facts column had pointed out, the proportion of false cases under the Atrocities Act has actually witnessed a slight decline between 2009 and 2015.