Crimes against Dalits, tribals increased in Covid pandemic year: NCRB

By Dhrubo Jyoti,

A scheduled caste (SC) person faced crime every 10 minutes in India in the past year, cumulating to a total of 50,291 cases registered in 2020, an increase of 9.4% from the previous year, data from the National Crime Records Bureau said.

Crimes against scheduled tribe (ST) communities also increased by 9.3% to a total of 8,272 cases in the year.

The rise in crimes against SCs and STs bucked the broader trend of a drop in crime under some major heads – except Covid violations — last year, due to the pandemic and the 68-day-long lockdown that began on March 25, 2020.

Overall crimes rose 28% due to criminal cases related to Covid-19 violations, but crimes against women slowed 8.3%, rape cases dropped 12.4%, and abduction decreased by 19.3%.

“Our experience says that when it comes to atrocities on Dalits, efforts are made to dilute the seriousness of the violence and shield accused people. It is a serious matter that despite a pandemic and the presence of constitutional and legislative safeguards, crimes against them are increasing,” said Rahul Singh of the National Dalit Movement for Justice.

The data on crimes offered four broad takeaways.

One, the largest chunk of crimes against SCs and STs in the past year was that of simple hurt – bruises, injuries resulting out of skirmishes or fights as opposed to more serious broken limbs or maiming. A third of the crimes against SCs was registered as simple hurt, while the figure stood at a fourth for STs.

This confirmed anecdotal evidence of rising social tensions in the countryside as migrant labourers – many of whom came from marginalised castes and tribes – were forced to return from the city to their home villages, where very few of them owned land or commanded social capital.

To be sure, simple hurt always form a big proportion of crimes against SCs, but the 2020 figures represented a four percentage point rise from 2019.

Two, crimes against SCs continued to be concentrated in a handful of states.

Uttar Pradesh constituted 25% of all crimes recorded against SCs and reported 12,714 cases in all. To be sure, this can be attributed to the state’s high population (it also has the highest population of SCs) and better reporting mechanisms owing to a dense network of ground-level activists.

It was followed by Bihar (7,368), Rajasthan (7,017) and Madhya Pradesh (6,899). Together, these four states account for two-thirds of all crimes against SCs in India despite accounting for only around 40% of the country’s 197 million scheduled caste people.

The rate of crimes – which is a measure of crime cases relative to the population of SC — was highest in Rajasthan, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. This was identical to last year.

A similar analysis for STs doesn’t hold because they’re concentrated in a few states, unlike SCs who are more evenly spread.

Three, the nature and quantum of crimes against Dalits is very different in big cities and the countryside and smaller hamlets. This underlines the logic behind migration of lower-caste communities from villages to cities since Independence, and the exhortation of BR Ambedkar to leave the “sink of localism” in India’s villages.

In 2020, a total of 1,485 crimes against SCs were registered in India’s 19 metropolitan cities with a population of two million or more – indicating that 97% of the crimes against Dalits occurred in small towns and villages.

The figure in big cities represented a drop of 10.9% from the previous year – a sharp contrast to overall numbers that went up. To be sure, it could also mean that lockdown strictures were more rigidly enforced in big cities, leading to lower crimes.

The nature of crimes against SCs in big cities was also different. In the 20 big towns, criminal intimidation and rape were the most common crimes against Dalits. Overall, simple hurt and atrocities cases were the most common.

Four, the court pendency rate of cases, especially in cases filed under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of) Atrocities Act, continues to be low. This also confirms standalone reports of cases of major caste crimes taking years to reach final stage in courts and difficulty faced by Dalits in proving crimes against upper-castes.

The court pendency rate of cases under the SC/ST Act stood at 96.5% in 2020, up from the 94% last year. At the end of the year, 177,379 cases were pending trial under the special legislation meant to protect the marginal castes and tribes.

The overall pendency rate in the country for all cases was 91.3% for special and local laws (SLL) crimes and 93.8% for Indian Penal Code crimes.

Only 216 cases from the 50,291 crimes against SCs in 2020 resulted in convictions. 3,192 cases resulted in acquittals. “These pendency numbers bring the adequacy of existing  court infrastructure to adjudicate these cases in question,” said Raja Bagga, a senior programme officer of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

He pointed out that in a state like Bihar, with 49008 atrocity cases for trial , only 55 were disposed by the courts during the year, leaving 48, 953 ( 99.9% of the cases) pending. Out of these 55 cases, 43 led to acquittal.

In West Bengal, only 723 atrocity cases were in court on trial ( one of the lowest among big states), but only two of them were disposed off during the year, both ending up in acquittal.

“Connected to the slow pace of the trials is the low conviction rate of 42.4 % in atrocity cases. The average conviction rate in the country is 59.2 % for IPC cases and 87.5 % in SLL cases.,” Bagga added.

This story first appeared on hindustantimes.com