Government plans the right move vis-à-vis the SC/ST Act undermines a sober, reasoned judicial order.
In pre-election season, with the Opposition rapidly galvanising itself and harvesting every kind of anxiety among disadvantaged sections and farmers, the ruling BJP is leaving nothing to chance and is keen to be seen as doing the right thing and more importantly as having a receptive ear and a proactive head. So as Dalit anger simmers over the Supreme Court ruling on the SC/ST Act, which had done away with the provision of immediate arrest of the accused without proper investigation and provisioned for bail, the Government is planning to undo it by pushing an amendment Bill restoring earlier clauses. By adopting this placatory gesture, the BJP clearly wants to retain some stake in the Dalit vote bank, which was being systematically chipped away by the relentless Opposition attack and the resurgence of BSP chief Mayawati as a claimant to electoral relevance. Besides, as the Maratha quota agitation — which has been pivoted as a counterpoint around SC/ST privileges — has shown that the BJP was willing to give credence to the demands of a dominant caste group in Maharashtra, it did not want to appear as insensitive to the larger Dalit constituency. Crucially, its own house was rumbling with allies like LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan and tribal leaders provoking a swift review.
But does anybody realise the cost of political expediency? Does the BJP realise that by moving for an amendment as a rectification of its political motives, it questions the jurisprudence of the highest court of the land and somewhat dilutes the credibility of the judiciary? For the Supreme Court had not diluted the law in any which way, it had only clarified its application process so that it was not subject to misuse by either the offender or the complainant and was not seen as an automatic and instant disbursal of justice. In fact, the court made a very reasoned and sensible judgment call by insisting that “immediate arrest” be replaced by “arrest only after preliminary enquiry,” thereby eliminating the “heat of the moment” factor altogether and fixing the culpability of the real offender indulging in atrocities against Dalits. The law couldn’t be seen as arbitrary and as the court said, “converted into a charter for exploitation or oppression by any unscrupulous person” irrespective of caste or religion. The court only knows too well how sharply polarised arguments tend to disregard reason and reinforce stereotypes rather than diagnosing the problem for a real cure. Too many cases have been compromised by conflicting or false statements and hostile witnesses. Hence, it put in place a system of checks and balances and prevented the law from being used as a convenient bogey. Unfortunately, victimhood is always assumed to be of the disadvantaged and oppression pathologically ascribed to the privileged “other.” The court sought to ensure that the liberty of the accused is not compromised by faulty procedure. But activists sought to reinterpret the ruling as empowering the accused and weakening the complainant, concluding that the latter would not report atrocities or wrong-doing if the provision of unqualified, non-bailable arrest was done away with, fearing coercive hit-backs during the time of inquiry. Add to that the growing incidences of brutal caste violence and the ruling party had no option but to attempt a political override of the system. Democracy means equality of rights too but in votebank politics, that can prove too costly.
Writer: The Pioneer
Courtesy: The Pioneer