“Buddha is not smiling in Khairlanji” writes Times of India
Following is the best piece of writing from an eminent scholar Manoj Mitta , Senior Editor, Times Of India. This goes well with an idea that tests the spirit of any scholar or an activist at times when he/she deliberates on Caste realities, please read and comment !
Whenever a caste Hindu kills a Dalit, does that crime necessarily qualify to be called a “caste atrocity”? Is there any so-called “judicially manageable standard” to determine whether such an offence was motivated by caste prejudice? These fundamental questions have been thrown up by the Bombay High Court’s judgment this month in the much-touted Khairlanji case in which a mob of caste Hindus lynched four members of a Dalit family four years ago.
The high court verdict proved controversial because, even as it awarded an exceptionally stiff sentence of 25 years to eight accused persons, it upheld their acquittal by the trial court on charges pressed by the CBI under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. Thus, the denial of the atrocity label did not quite conform to the stereotype that the upper caste-dominated judiciary is indifferent to crimes against outcastes. Short of the death sentence, there was little scope for the high court to impose a higher penalty.
Yet human rights defenders and Dalit activists are crying foul. This, because of the court’s refusal to acknowledge the caste angle in the Khairlanji case. Many see this as a setback to the larger challenge of enforcing the atrocity law or preventing such incidents. Even 20 years after the enactment of this special law, there is no clarity on when its harsh provisions should apply to offences committed against Dalits. For, the law, which gives teeth to the constitutional ban on untouchability, divides caste atrocities into two broad categories:
* The first covers typical forms of untouchability: forcing a Dalit to drink or eat any “inedible or obnoxious substance”, dumping excreta or carcasses on his premises, parading him naked or with painted face, obstructing a Dalit from accessing a “place of public resort” or forcing him to leave his house or village. In such cases, the caste motivation is a given.
* The second category covers grievous offences that are anyway punishable under the Indian Penal Code (rape or murder, for instance). It is not enough for the victim to be a Dalit and the culprit to be non-Dalit to invoke the atrocity law. The prosecution would also have to prove that the crime was motivated by caste prejudice.
The problem is that this is subjective. Hence, cases relating to the second category of caste atrocities often result in acquittals under the special law. There is no objective standard for determining the hand of caste prejudice in such cases. Unsurprisingly, this offers ample scope for judges to interpret the law in a manner that may diverge from common sense.
In fact, the problem with the Khairlanji verdict is that the high court remained unconvinced that caste hatred had, in any way, contributed to a terrible crime — the four Dalits were chased and beaten to death by a mob made up of locally dominant Kunbi Marathas. As far as the court is concerned, the only motive for the mass murder was the mob’s quest for “revenge”. It is true that two of the targeted Dalits — mother and daughter — had dared to lodge a police complaint against some of those caste Hindus following an assault on a Dalit family friend.
But the assumption that the mob was driven by revenge alone and displayed no caste prejudice is contradicted by the court’s own narrative of facts. Take its failure to notice that the vengeance wreaked by the mob was far too disproportionate to the supposed cause of their outrage: the registration of an allegedly false assault case by the Dalit mother and daughter. The offence of assault carries a maximum penalty of two years. Could mob frenzy be whipped up to the extent of committing crimes punishable with death just to get even with somebody who lodged such a petty case? Had the Bhotmange family been upper caste, let alone the locally dominant Kunbi Maratha, would the mob have dared behave this way, that too in broad daylight?
The revenge theory also seems thin given the manner in which the daughter’s body was found naked in a canal and the fact that the mob killed the sons as well, one of whom was disabled, although they had nothing to do with the allegedly trumped-up assault complaint.
The Khairlanji verdict is more questionable than other atrocity cases in which judges have ruled that the crime had little to do with the victim’s low caste status. In 2006, in Bandu Tamboli vs State of Maharashtra, the high court rightly ruled against the application of the atrocity law as there was no reason to believe that the accused would not have raped the victim had she not been a Dalit. “There was no racial tinge to the offense,” the high court said.
It is ironic that while the courts use caste and race interchangeably, the government spares no effort at various international meets to delink the two. In any event, Khairlanji is a watershed event. It is a fit case for the Supreme Court to clarify that judges cannot defeat the very purpose of having an atrocity law by overlooking clear evidence of caste prejudice. Else, judges themselves might be seen as unwittingly betraying a “racial tinge”.
Source: Time Of India
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