The recent clashes between Dalits and Thakurs in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh (UP) have once again thrown the spotlight on the deep fault lines in Indian society.
While violence against lower caste groups such as Dalits or scheduled castes (SCs) has a long history in the country, such crimes have been on the rise over the past few years, data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows. The spurt in the crimes against Dalits has been accompanied by a fall in the conviction rates for such crimes, suggesting that a culture of impunity might be contributing to the rising violence.
According to the NCRB data, the crime rate (number of crimes per million people) against Dalits has increased sharply in 2012 at the national level.
Although the recorded rate of crimes against Dalits in UP is lower than the national average, it too witnessed a sharp rise since 2012. It is worth noting that 2012 was also the year when the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which boasts a formidable Dalit support base, was voted out of power in UP.
NCRB calculates crime rate against Dalits by adding crimes committed under three sub-categories: Protection of Civil Rights Acts 1955, SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and crimes under regular Indian Penal Code (IPC) categories.
The practice of including regular IPC crimes along with crimes against Dalits recorded under categories such as SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act makes sense because not all instances of caste-based violence against Dalits are recorded under the provisions of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Not only are policemen reluctant to invoke this Act; often judges too shy away from it. For instance, in the infamous Khairlanji killings—where upper caste men killed four members of a Dalit family in Maharashtra — both the trial court and the Bombay high court refused to invoke the provisions of this Act.
The spurt in anti-Dalit crimes in recent years has followed a sharp plunge in conviction rates for such crimes, NCRB data shows. From 38.4% in 2010, the conviction rate for such crimes fell to 30.7% in 2011 before plunging further to 18.8% in 2012 even as conviction rates for other crimes remained largely unchanged.
The fall in conviction rates is unlikely to be because of false or malicious filing of cases under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. NCRB data shows that the share of false or erroneous cases registered under the Act has remained largely unchanged over the past few years, and continues to hover below the 20% mark.
All eyes will now be on the newly elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in UP, and its actions against the perpetrators of violence in Saharanpur. Failure to act decisively and impartially against the criminals will not only encourage more violence in the state but will also threaten the BJP’s ambition of building a broad multi-caste support base.
Author: Roshan Kishore