Sthabir Khora examines the alleged misuse of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 by members of the SC/ST community. In light of the recent Supreme Court judgement in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v The State of Maharashtra, he examines whether “final reports,” the official term for closed cases under the SCST Act, are justified. This is because the Supreme Court relied on NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) data on false cases to portray that the SCST Act is misused. He draws from a study on 'final reports' done for a state in north India, commissioned by the state government and accepted by its police department.
Khora points out that members of the upper castes can misuse the law in two ways. First, the complainant is put on the wrong side of the law. Second, the sheer weak position of the complainant forces them to allow the case to die.
Khora looks at the aspect of 'compounding' of cases. Compounding of an offence is an agreement or a settlement to not proceed with the complaint. Khora notes that 81 out of 461 cases were 'compounded'. It must be pointed out here that compounding is not allowed under the SCST Act. Khora reasons that this may be possible due to persuasion and pressure by other villagers and the police. He questions the need to constrain the force of the Act if upper castes can bend and twist the law in this way.
The study shows that only 42.31% were aware of the SCST Act. Many complainants are unaware that their cases have already become final reports. Only one complainant in the study mentioned compensation. This casts doubt on the assertion that compensation is a factor triggering false cases under the SCST Act. Moreover, SCs and STs may or may not get compensation on 'lodging false complaints' but they will certainly incur the wrath of the upper castes of the village, which is discouragement enough to not file false complaints.
The study found that complainants rarely file complaints superintendent of police’s (SP) office. Of the 442 cases analysed, 70.6% were registered through the court, 34.39% through the police station, and only 4.3% were registered through the SP’s office. This indicates the disconnect between the people and the SP’s office.
Khora argues that it difficult to expect the SP to do due diligence before giving or withholding an arrest order. In any case, the SCST Act does not have any specific guidelines on arresting. Mandating the prior approval of the SP will only result in delaying justice.
Khora concludes that there is a need to act against indirect discrimination, instead of creating bars on an anti-discrimination law such as the SCST Act.