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SC holds administration accountable for caste atrocities

The most significant part of a recent Supreme Court judgment hearing a case of caste discrimination is that it directs state governments to hold administrative and police officials accountable for caste discrimination of all kinds, and recommends their prosecution

The Supreme Court has directed all state governments to hold accountable administrative and police officials who fail to check caste (khap) panchayats from encouraging and carrying out honour killings and other atrocities.

“This is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. There is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder… Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal,” said a bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra.

The bench also condemned the pernicious caste system and directed that administrative and state officials be penalised if they fail to prevent caste discrimination or do not prosecute those implicated in such cases. “The caste system is a curse on the nation and the sooner it is destroyed the better. In fact, it is dividing the nation at a time when we have to be united to face the challenges before the nation. Inter-caste marriages are, in fact, in the national interest as they will result in destroying the caste system,” the bench observed.

The bench directed administrative and police officials to take strong measures to prevent such acts. It said that apart from instituting criminal proceedings against those responsible for such atrocities, “the state government concerned is directed to immediately suspend the district magistrate/collector and SSP/SP of the district as well as other officials concerned, and chargesheet them and proceed against them departmentally if they do not prevent the incident if it has not already occurred but they have knowledge of it in advance, or if it has occurred, they do not promptly apprehend the culprits and others involved and institute criminal proceedings against them”. “In our opinion,” the judges said, “the authorities will be deemed directly or indirectly accountable in this connection.”

The direction was passed while upholding the two-year imprisonment sentence, including six months’ imprisonment under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, awarded by a trial court to Arumugam Servai, who called a scheduled caste member by his caste name, ‘Pallan’.

After dealing with the case at hand, the bench said: “This is the age of democracy and equality. No people or community should be today insulted or looked down upon, and nobody’s feelings should be hurt. This is also the spirit of our Constitution and is part of its basic features.”

The bench castigated what it called the ‘two tumbler’ system prevalent in Tamil Nadu where, in many tea shops and restaurants, separate tumblers or glasses are used to serve tea or other drinks to scheduled caste people. “In our opinion, this is highly objectionable and is an offence under the SC/ST Act,” it said.

After issuing directions for fixing liability against officers failing to check atrocities carried out by khap panchayats, the court directed that a copy of the order be sent to all state chief secretaries, home secretaries and director-generals of police. The state must, in turn, circulate it to all officers up to the level of district magistrate and SSP/SP for strict compliance.

The bench said the order should also be brought to the notice of judges of the high court.

Source: The Hindu, April 20, 2011
            The Indian Express, April 20, 2011