Even as the Rajya Sabha followed the Lok Sabha in passing the amended SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, members of the BJP and the Congress clashed outside Parliament on Thursday over their respective positions on Dalit rights.
The amendment thus annuls a March 20 order of the Supreme Court, which banned the registration of cases and the immediate arrest of a person accused of insulting or injuring anyone belonging to SC/ST communities. The apex court had held that public servants cannot be prosecuted without the approval of the appointing authority and private citizens could be arrested only after an inquiry. It also said that a preliminary inquiry under the Act would be conducted by an officer of the level of Deputy Superintendent of Police to ensure that the allegations are not superficial.
This has largely been perceived as a dilution of the original Act of 1989, aimed at protecting historically and traditionally oppressed communities against whom, according to the national crime records bureau (NCRB), a crime is committed every 15 minutes.
The SC ruling on April 2 was followed by a country-wide bandh, which witnessed widespread violence claiming nine lives. On Monday, the government-sponsored amendment Bill to reverse the SC judgment, was unanimously passed in the Lok Sabha with a number of parties demanding its inclusion in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution to prevent it from judicial review.
On Thursday, the ruling party showcased the passage of the Bill and also the Constitution amendment Bill giving constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes as prominent achievements of the government towards ensuring the rights of oppressed communities.
Simultaneously, Opposition leaders including Congress President Rahul Gandhi and the CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury joined a meeting of Dalit activists and agitators at Jantar Mantar to protest the “anti-Dalit mindset” of the ruling establishment.
According to Rahul Gandhi, atrocities against the Dalits had multiplied in States ruled by the BJP, and it was a direct consequence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “anti-Dalit” mindset.
“Everything starts from intent. If he (Modi) would have had place for Dalits in his heart, then policies would have been framed differently. In Gujarat, he brought out a book of his speeches in which he wrote that Dalits get spiritual satisfaction out of cleaning. These lines throw light on his thinking and ideology,” the Congress chief said.
Rahul’s utterances found a sharp rebuttal from BJP President Amit Shah, who, making a reference to the Congress President’s speech in the Lok Sabha during the recent no-confidence motion against the government, advised him to “look at facts when he is free from winking”.
In a series of tweets, Shah scoffed at Rahul and asserted that the NDA government had ensured the strongest amendment to the SC/ST Act. The BJP President wondered why his Congress counterpart was “protesting” the passage of a Bill that sought to protect the Dalits.