Responding to a question by Congress MLA Pravinbhai Maru, Gujarat Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Ishwar Parmar informed the legislative assembly that the state has registered an increase of 32 per cent in crimes committed against Scheduled Castes from 2013 to 2017.
The reply stated that a total of 6,185 cases were registered in the period between 2013 and 2017 under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. While 1,147 cases were registered in 2013, it jumped to 1,515 in 2017. It added that 414 additional cases were registered in the first three months of 2018. Among these cases, Ahmedabad topped the chart with 49 cases whereas Junagarh and Bhavnagar registered 34 and 25 cases, respectively.
Similarly, the state witnessed 55 per cent increase in crimes committed against the Scheduled Tribes in 2013-2017. Additionally, 89 cases were registered in the first three months of 2018. Among these, Bharuch registered 14 cases followed by Vadodara (11) and Panchmahal (10). The crime rate appears to be unabated despite the formation of 16 special courts in 2017, after the infamous Una Flogging case.
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Despite higher number of criminal cases committed against the marginalised sections of the society, the state authorities have failed in bringing the culprits to the book. The data furnished by vigilance and monitoring committee of social justice and empowerment suggest that the state has miserably lagged as far as the conviction rate is concerned. The state registered a 3.78 per cent conviction rate in 2017 and 2018.
Martin Macwan, Founder of the Navsrijan Trust, argued that there are few reasons behind the steep increase in crimes committed against dalits and tribals. He said, "First, the dalits are getting educated and becoming aware about their rights in the state. So, they are approaching law enforcement agencies against any crime. Second, the state administration is entirely negligent when it comes to playing its part. Their thinking is akin to the status quo. For example, when some dalit tries to enter a temple and he is resisted by the upper castes, the police think that it is a religious practice and they should not intervene in the matter. Registering an FIR may turn into a haunting experience for dalits as counter FIRs are very common. Recently, a dalit man was forced to lick the shoe of the police inspector when he tried to register his complaint."
Echoing similar sentiments, Arun Mehta, Convener of the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch in Gujarat said that dalits are being silenced by counter FIRs by police in complete connivance with the government and the RSS. The atmosphere of fear can be gauged from the fact that dalits and tribals have been evicted from their lands but there appears to be no major protest. If any NGO or Left party comes to their rescue, only then their pleas are heard.
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But the story of oppression goes beyond police and takes the judiciary also into its grip. Highlighting the prejudice against dalits in the judiciary, Macwan argued that the mentality of even the judges too is anti-dalit. He said, "When I was teaching at the National Judicial Academy, I interviewed a session court judge who said that they are advised two things to follow while hearing cases registered under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. One, do not convict too many persons in the case and second do not work faster. So, we observe a strange thing. Dalits constitute 7.1 per cent of population in Gujarat. On the one hand, we see cases by dalits are not registered but they are convicts in 30 per cent cases in Gujarat. This is a reflection on the state's mentality."
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