Indian Dalit Christians and Muslims sit in the rain during a protest in New Delhi in August 2012 against the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for its rejection of the demand for reservation for Dalit Christians and Muslims. (Photo: Raveendran/AFP)
India’s top court has restored provisions of a law designed to protect socially poor indigenous and Dalit people from atrocities, eliciting applause from Christian leaders and rights groups.
The Supreme Court on Feb. 10 revoked its directions issued two years ago regarding the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, a stringent law introduced in 1989 to punish those who attack the former untouchable people.
“It is a matter of great joy that the top court has upheld the original law,” Bishop Paul Toppo of Raigarh told UCA News on Feb. 11.
“The law was to empower the indigenous and Dalit people, who are on the lowest ladder of the Indian caste system.”
The court on March 20, 2018, ruled that police could arrest public servants accused under the law only after getting written permission from their appointing authority.
In the case of private employees, the complainant must get permission from the senior superintendent of police.
The court, in its previous order, also said a preliminary inquiry must be conducted before police file a complaint. It also permitted police to decide if the case could be dealt with under this act.
“Now, with the restoration of the original provisions, the beneficiaries can assert their rights and will regain the confidence to fight against injustice against them,” said Bishop Toppo, a member of the Indian bishops' commission for indigenous people.
The court reversal comes after a series of protests, campaigning and a review petition from the federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was under attack from tribal and Dalit leaders for not supporting the cause of their people, who together form 27 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people.
The protest forced the government to amend some directions of the court ruling, and it also filed a review petition before the court for restoring the original law.
The court said the “matter is rendered of academic importance as we had restored the position as prevailed before the 2018 judgment.”
The reversal means, the court said, there will be no provision of anticipatory bail or preliminary inquiry for those accused under this law far as the arrest is concerned. Besides, no official permission would be required for proceeding against a government servant.
The change will go a long way to integrating indigenous and Dalit people into the social mainstream, said Aman Singh Porthe, an indigenous leader based in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
He said the effort to render the law toothless was part of “a larger conspiracy to remove the laws that protect the tribal and Dalits gradually.”
He told UCA News that the federal government had used the court to dilute such stringent laws to “help and benefit the upper-caste people who take advantage of our ignorance and inefficiency.”