The Case of Low Conviction in Crimes Against Dalits and Adivasis

The Case of Low Conviction in Crimes Against Dalits and Adivasis

Barely a year had passed of the horrific Hathras rape case, that yet another gruesome rape and murder of a Dalit girl in the capital made headlines. This time a nine-year-old was allegedly raped, killed and burnt in the national capital, New Delhi on 1st August. Within a few days a 13 year old was also raped and killed, allegedly by the landlord's kin. Also a Dalit.

The media coverage of gruesome cases like these almost always focuses on how the police and the judiciary are not effective and highlight the low conviction rate in cases of crimes against Dalit and Adivasi women and children. And it is true. The conviction rate for crimes committed against women and minor girls from the Scheduled Caste, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data from 2017 to 2019, is just 26.86 percent.

But we aren’t going to talk about the low conviction rates in this article but rather we are asking “Why is the conviction rate always low in the country?” “Why is it difficult for Dalit and Adivasi women and minor girls to get justice in the country?”

The answer lies in the systemic discrimination and biases that Dalits and Adivasis face and as long as we don’t resolve this, it will always be difficult for them to get justice. The Indian Parliament acknowledged this problem as well. The report on atrocities and crimes against women and children by the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs was tabled in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha in March 2021.

The report says, “The Committee observes that this is primarily due to the poor implementation of the existing laws and the apathetic attitude of the law enforcing agencies. Moreover, the high acquittal rate motivates and boosts the confidence of dominant and powerful communities for continued perpetration. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Ministry of Home Affairs must make holistic efforts towards sensitizing concerned public authorities and people at large through regular training and sensitization programmes.”

If we look at some of the cases reported in the media over the past one year we can see the apathetic attitude of law enforcing agencies and the systemic discrimination and bias. A 32-year-old Dalit woman from Narsinghpur district in Madhya Pradesh was sexually assaulted in October 2020. Her family members claim that when she went to the police station to file a complaint, but the assistant sub inspector refused to file the complaint. She committed suicide the next day.

On 14 September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. When the news was reported, the UP police called it "fake news". The police also claimed that some people were spreading "fake news” to stir "caste-based tension”. Later, a senior UP Police officer said that the victim was not raped, which was not true. She died two weeks later in a Delhi hospital. The case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The CBI in their chargesheet mentions lapses on part of UP Police that include delay in recording the victim's statement in writing and her subsequent medical examination.

SR Darapuri, an activist and a former Inspector General who worked in Uttar Pradesh police says, “There is bias against Dalits and Adivasis. When a woman goes to a police station to file a case of sexual assault and if the accused is upper caste, then in most cases there will be a willful delay in investigation. And when the investigation is delayed, it allows for the accused to manipulate the case.”

In the Delhi case where the nine-year-old was allegedly raped and killed, the parents of the child told the media that the Delhi police did not stop the accused from destroying potential evidence, and they were under pressure by the police to only file a complaint according to the accused’s version of what happened.

Nikita Sonavane is the Co-founder of Criminal Justice & Police Accountability Project. This Bhopal-based litigation and research intervention focused on building accountability against criminalisation of certain communities by the Police and the criminal justice system. Nikita says, "There have been multiple attempts at sensitising law enforcement agencies. The problem is that there is no accountability in the system. It is very difficult to hold police officers accountable for not conducting an impartial and timely investigation. The system is inherently designed to be against marginalised communities”.

“While sensitisation is important, the question must be asked as to why it hasn’t been done actively in the country so far. And that tells you when it comes to ending systemic bias and discrimination, the will of the state is weak”, said SR Darapuri.

Dalit and Adivasi women and children will only get justice when the perpetrators of these crimes are punished. The impunity these perpetrators enjoy will end only when the systemic discrimination and bias also ends. The government must go beyond mere words and ensure that structural changes are adopted which makes the system more inclusive.

The nine-year-old girl who was raped and killed in Delhi shouldn’t end up as mere statistic in another parliamentary committee report. She must get justice. The discrimination and bias must end.

Image courtesy: The Indian Express

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