A Sneak peek into a Dalit Family’s Legal Struggle
A.B. Karl Marx Siddharthar
On 29th, June, 2021 I, being the victim/petitioner in an atrocity case, visited the Collector’s Office, Chennai to attend the DVMC (District Vigilance Monitoring Committee) meeting. Based on the Hon’ble Madras High Court’s Order, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Chennai CBCID is the appointed Investigating Officer of my Complaint and recently he had filed a closure report of my complaint as ‘Mistake of Fact’ following which I have filed a Protest Petition in the Sessions Court challenging the CBCID’s report.
At this juncture, I was served with a notice to participate in the meeting of DVMC. The DVMC is chaired by the District Collector, with elected members of parliament and state legislature and other significant members. It means an opportunity given to me to highlight and report before DVMC the willful negligence and dereliction of duty by the CBCID authorities. As me and other petitioners were told to wait at the reception, at the end of two hours we were told that the DVMC has conducted its meeting along with the Investigation Officers and our presence is no longer necessary. To not hear the submissions of the Victims and a report based on the Investigation Officers’ statement and other enforcing authorities is nothing short of an eye-wash done by the District Collector and this best explains the defect inherent in the SC/ST Act itself. Can such a report reflect the true state of affairs? The Act explicitly should have ensured the representation of victims/petitioners.
The purpose of venting out my thoughts, I must say, is not lethargic; it is revolting. It is revolting because the experience that I and my family are experiencing is not just a legal fight against caste oppression. Rather, a ‘legal struggle’ is happening that would coalesce in the Dalit history as a minuscule part. By offering a glimpse of our legal struggle I do not want to tell another story that just ends with Dalits as Victims. That would be a celluloid understanding. To write about atrocities on Dalits, histories of organisations or periodicals, biographies, or even stories of individual lives also are all not enough. They drastically do not extend our purpose. I believe in equipping my people. Our creations should suggest a solution/way out/action plan and should not be restricted to depicting our struggles and sufferings alone. Therefore, as a preliminary exercise, let me bring your attention to how the law subverts itself from protecting the lives of the Broken men, the Untouchables.
On 8th, June, 2021, we received a Notice from the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India containing the order passed by a 2 Bench Coram that had Stayed the further proceedings in a Atrocity case pending before the Special Court at Chennai. The Special Court deals with all the cases pertaining to the ‘Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989’ and the Apex Court has Stayed any further proceedings in one such case, involving my Father as the petitioner and the respondents that included 9 Caste Hindus, that is in the stage of ‘Framing of Charges’. As we as a family would be taking steps hereinafter to quash this order of the Supreme Court, I submit the genesis of this Case, the caste atrocities involved in it, we as a Dalit family becoming its victim and the different aspects of the legal struggle that is posing many challenges before us etc. as a book proposal. In short, it would Chronicle my Family’s legal struggle against the various kind of atrocities being inflicted upon us together by the Caste Hindu Society and the State for nearly a decade.
Interim Stay: An Easy Relief for the Offenders and Pain for the Victims
Before moving to the different aspects of the Case, it is noteworthy to know about the repercussions of the Appeal Courts passing orders to Stay the proceedings in lower Courts. Aggrieved as the victims of atrocities, it was in 2018, when we managed to file a Case before the competent Special Court without losing track of the jurisdiction. Prior to that, nearly 2 years were wasted in filing the petition and conducting the Case before the wrong trial Court. It is strange that the lower Court has allowed the proceedings for nearly two years before coming to know that it has no jurisdiction over the Case itself. In a way, it discloses the ignorance of the relevance of Special Act, i.e SC/ST(PoA) Act, both on part of the Advocates representing the Depressed Class victims and the Judiciary itself.
The Special Act mandates that the proceedings should be conducted on a day-to-day basis and should be completed within 6 months. But hitherto the proceedings continued for more than 3 years even to arrive at the initial stage of ‘Framing of Charges’. Meanwhile, we suffered a set-back when the respondents went for an appeal before the Madras High Court and the Stay to conduct the proceedings was immediately granted even before providing us an opportunity to be heard.
The dissent that we are reiterating is when the Stay is issued in favour of the offenders without even hearing the initial plea of the Depressed Class’s victims, the law is providing arm-chairs for the offenders to relax in and smile while the victims of the atrocity are burdened mentally and financially to search for trustworthy Advocates who can effectively represent their contention before the Appeal Courts.
The Depressed Classes’s victims are not totally against the issuance of Stay for it serves the purpose of safeguarding the innocents who are wrongfully charged under SC/ST Act. They have no objection when the Court grants the Stay after hearing the arguments from both the sides. In such Cases the Court at least gives the victims the perfect and timely opportunity to contest why the Stay should not be granted. But strangely, the Appeal Courts issues the Stay beforehand in the absence of victim’s knowledge even about the petition for the same being filed by the offenders. By this, the Court itself is creating a needless setback to the victims and then issues notice to them with its order copy about the Stay granted. The burden continues on the victims till the Stay is vacated. The Depressed Class reiterate for the prior intimation to be given before granting Stay while the Courts, in some Cases, grant the Stay first and subsequently intimate the Depressed Class’s victims.
Towering Advocate Fees
In our Case in which my father is the petitioner, the High Court and Supreme Court both chose to subsequently inform us after granting the Stay. It took us a few months of another legal and financial struggle to successfully vacate the Stay granted by the High Court (during which the offenders continued to perpetuate their atrocities). Now we have been informed by the Supreme Court about its Stay granted for the trial and we are clueless in finding an Advocate who can handle our case from Delhi. Additionally, the Advocate-on-Record (AOR) is the only qualified person via whom the petitions can be submitted before the Apex Court. And with regard to the fees expected from the victims even to contest their case in Supreme Court, it varies extensively but the overall amount undoubtedly required is casually quoted in lakhs!
Special Public Prosecutors: Does their role extend beyond Trial Courts
Atrocities committed on the Depressed Classes undoubtedly amount to serious crimes and hence are considered as crimes against the society itself. Consequently, the victims are represented in the Courts through the State appointed Public Prosecutors. Since the atrocities (offences) punishable under the SC/ST Act are handled by the Special Courts (Sessions Court), the Advocates representing the Depressed Class’s victims in such Courts are referred as ‘Special Public Prosecutors’. In our case too, the Special Public Prosecutor appointed and paid by the State represented our submissions. But his role was completely put to halt when the respondents/offenders managed to get an interim Stay from the Madras High Court. This raises another important question- whether the Special Public Prosecutor’s role can be extended beyond the Special Court? Section 15 of the Special Act mandates the State Government to appoint Special Public Prosecutor for the purpose of conducting cases in the Special Court. It is silent on the question of which law officer is responsible to represent the victims belonging to Depressed Classes in High Courts and the Supreme Court? The provisions of SC/ST Act offer no remedy in this situation and there is also no clear-cut practice on who will be representing the victims when the proceedings in the Special Court is Stayed by the High Court or Supreme Court. When our Case faced this difficulty, we were compelled to engage an Advocate from our end to appear before the High Court.
Special Public Prosecutors- turning hostile to the victims instead of representing
The role of the Special Public Prosecutor is crucial in assisting the court to render justice to the victims of atrocities. On him, lies the responsibility of effectively representing the victims. However, his contribution in our Case involved a gruesome tale of unworthiness and perjury.
The SC/ST Act is a Special Act and can be invoked only when the victim is a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe. But another noteworthy consideration in this context is that the statutory definition of ‘Scheduled Caste’ puts a Dalit Christian or a Dalit Muslim outside its purview. In simple words, it means only the Dalits who happen to be Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhist possess the rights of Scheduled Caste/s. There is no hesitation needed to conclude that this is a restriction on the principle of Social Justice and the freedom of the Dalits to preach, profess and practice the religion of their choice. It also explains why a good number of the Dalit population follow Christianity but choose to remain as ‘statutory’ Hindus. They have to forsake their rights as a member of Scheduled Caste/s if they desire to be ‘statutory’ Christians. Its repercussion with regard to the SC/ST Act is that no Dalit Christian can invoke this Special Act even if she/he becomes a victim of atrocities committed by the caste Hindus.
Usually the above defect in the law is used by the caste Hindus to their advantage when they are booked under the Special Act. But in our Case, the State appointed Advocate himself attempted to take the proceedings in this direction. The Special Public Prosecutor who was bound to represent us forged an argument in the Court that we belong to Christianity and the provisions of the Special Act do not apply in our scenario and hence the Case has to be dismissed. Legally speaking, he committed an offence of Perjury. He did so despite our caste certificate (esp. my father’s) confirming us to be Hindu Scheduled Castes had been submitted to the Court and also to him at the initial stage of the trial itself. My father who as a petitioner has to be present during all the hearings objected immediately to the Special Public Prosecutor’s claim. He boldly did so despite being warned by the Principal Sessions Judge (of contempt of Court) that he is not allowed to speak before the Court when he is already being represented by the Special Public Prosecutor. It is unfortunate that my father was not allowed to speak though the special act specifically entitles the victim to be heard. On the other hand, the Special Public Prosecutor’s unbecoming act of perjury was condoned by the Court without even seeking an explanation for his conduct.
In search of a Special Public Prosecutor truthful to his Profession
Finding a Special Public Prosecutor- I would say this is the most painful part in our fight for justice. It was and still is the most painful suffering. The numerous atrocities being committed on us by the caste Hindus so far haven’t deterred our spirit. It never will. In fact, the inhuman psyche of the society has kindled in us a righteous indignation. But the thought that the Depressed Classes are yet in their nascent stage in wielding the law for their emancipation makes us to walk slow for the fear of falling and failing. In a way, the Depressed Classes are in complete contrast to their saviour and leader. Though they fondly adore their leader as the Father of the Indian Constitution they have not emulated his expertise in law.
My view might be found offending and unacceptable to many. Some might even construe it as a charge. But this opinion arises out of a long and tiresome legal struggle that we as a family are still pursuing, during which my wife and sister along with myself have begun and completed law graduation itself and have started our career as Advocates. In addition, my father who is a retired Government employee will also be completing his LL.B soon. Though a lot can be lectured on professional ethics, even the Bar and Bench would not differ when they have to comment on the existing relationship between the Advocates and Clients…
In the context of our interaction with the Special Public Prosecutor it was much more pathetic as he not only refused to submit the miscellaneous petition (highlighting the ongoing atrocities carried on by the offenders during the trial period itself) but also wrongly guided us to refer to another Advocate as it does not fall under his responsibility. When my father himself took the efforts to draft the miscellaneous petition (of about 300 pages with evidences) and informed the Special Public Prosecutor on the hearing date to submit it before the court, we received a demeaning reply of “Mind your business and go away” from him. When our case came for the hearing, the same de facto Special Public Prosecutor who has to represent us instead turned hostile. Fortunately, based on my father’s prayer the Court allowed us to be represented by the Special Public Prosecutor of our own choice.
From here started our search for an Advocate who is receptive to his clients and had prior experience in handling the cases falling under SC/ST Act. In this regard, the Special Act also mandates that such an Advocate should be in practice for not less than seven years- a qualification required for the purpose of conducting cases in the Special Court. We sought help from human rights organizations, social justice activists, Dalit political leaders, the numerous Ambedkarites, Periyarists and Communists whomever we encountered. Especially, the leading advocates and the NGOs resisting and reacting to the dishonour killings and caste-based violence were contacted. Even the social media references were exhausted. Most of the insiders are very much aware of the truth but it is rarely spilled out- there is a glaring shortage of legal expertise when the SC/ST Act comes into picture. This truth was sympathetically disclosed by many when they sensed the gravity of our Case. Though we couldn’t find a convincing suggestion or solution from any of the quarters, many were astonished in finding how we single-handedly were able to shape the Case-alive and kicking-despite the caste forces persistent in their opposition.
Experiences of Obstacles
The inefficiency and untrustworthiness of the Special Public Prosecutor though a crucial hindrance is in fact a peripheral concern among the many challenges that the victims of atrocities struggle to surmount. Unworthy to spare an exemption, all these challenges are the ceaseless creator of pathetic events and stories that is sucking out the human sanctity of the Depressed Classes. I list them below and to chronicle the experiences of my family striking against these challenges would form the rest of my book,
1. The Antagonism of Administration (Chennai Collector, Corporation of Chennai, Water Authority Board, Tahsildar Office and others)
2. Police Stations becoming Panchayat Stations.
3. Negation of the word ‘Atrocity’ by the officials and their rejection to use it in required places.
4. Interpretation of Criminal Offences and Atrocities as Civil Wrongs.
5. Injustice under the pretext of Preliminary Enquiry.
6. Investigating Officers not taking into account the amendment of SC/ST Act in 2018 (No preliminary enquiry shall be required to register an FIR)
7. Evading/Delayed/Denying/Absence of answers to the questions under RTI ACT.
8. Failure of RTI Commissions to conduct timely enquiry and indefinite postponement related to SC/ST connected Appeals.
9. National Commission for Scheduled Caste (NCSC) apathetically reduced to the role of Postal Commission for Scheduled Caste.
10. Rights based Organization’s (in Tamil Nadu) perspective of Victims as their Capital esp. in Dishonor Killing Cases.
11. Eye-wash in the name of DVMC (District Vigilance Monitoring Committee) as mandated under the Special Act.
12. Dalits partnering with Caste Hindus and aiding the Atrocity.
13. Limited role Dalit Political Parties in redressing the wrongs suffered by the Victims.
14. Response of Different Media in responding to Atrocity news.
15. Is Education connected to Victim’s persistence to resist.
16. The crucial aspect that the Apex court is failing to see with respect to SC/ST Act.
17. Beyond P.S.Krishna: Making the Special Law Operative.
18. The Stares from the Society.
19. Dalit Intellectuals: Apathy and Inertness ; Causes for it.
20. The everyday life of a Victim.
Fireflies amidst the Dark
Each and every step in the legal struggle of the Depressed Classes paves the pathway for their emancipation. Their success before the special courts has the potential to create landmark cases that could elevate the human rights and social justice stature to its pinnacle. None of the atrocity victims’ legal struggle is an outcome of mere personal trauma. It should never be reduced to such an understanding. Rather, it withholds in it the hope of the marginalized in the belief in the justice system. They are the litmus test to assess the general conscience of this Society and State. The SC/ST victims who stand in the halls of the court as petitioners/complainants should remember that they are the tiniest speck of the vast servile class that has been accustomed for centuries only to toil and serve. Unlike their brethren, this tiniest speck is refusing to conform to the norm of settling down for servitude. They disturb the equilibrium of the caste society and have taken the path of resistance that is unknown to their kindred. In a way, they light their broken men to take asylum and find comfort in the dark caves of the law. The journey might even be bewildering but it is the surest way to keep the torrential atrocities of caste in check.
A.B. Karl Marx Siddharthar is a practicing Advocate channelizing his interest in Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. He is also the Author of ‘UNCASTE’ subtitled as ‘Understanding Unmarriageability: The Way Forward To Annihilate Caste’. The book is available worldwide and the author’s email id is firstname.lastname@example.org.