Legal Clinic-A Report
It was 31 years ago that the SC/ST (PoA) Act came into force to prevent atrocities on Dalits. But even after this long period, atrocities continue unabated with new forms of untouchability raising across the country. Despite the stringent Act and its latest amendments to plug the loop holes, the Act is never seriously implemented by those whose duty it is to protect the Dalits. The experience of DSS shows that it has to struggle and push the case against all odds and all powers to see that the law takes its course. Dalits are so tired and exhausted in continually attempting to see that law takes its course. In order to access justice to Dalit Adivasi Women & Girl Children DSS has to continually monitor the personnel of criminal justice administrations, appeal to higher authorities and rights commissions. In addition to appeals and petitions to courts, commissions DSS has organized Legal Clinics, Public Hearings and Round Table Conferences at district and state level during the past 14years. Similarly, it has engaged with the concerned officials of police, judiciary, social welfare department, women & child welfare department, print & electronic media at district and state level, sensitized them, participated in the vigilance and monitoring committee meetings for follow up of the cases.
As part of its efforts to render justice to the dalit women victims of atrocities DSS organized this legal clinic on 9th October 2020, at Guntur, A.P.The chief objective of the Legal Clinic is to give a fillip to deliver speedy justice by bringing together the Victims, Witnesses, Human Rights Defenders, Advocates, Social Welfare Department, Police Department, Director of Prosecutions, State & National SC Commissions so that a concerted effort can be initiated by all concerned.This Clinic is intended to provide an opportunity to the jury is to perceive directly the distress and predicament of the victims and witnesses of selected 22 blatant
incidents of violence, so that they can evaluate the
penal & pecuniary action taken and recommend for necessary further action till logical end. The other objective of this Legal Clinic is to see that the S.C. & S.T. (PoA) Amendment Act 2015 is appropriately implemented in at least the select few cases which will go a long way in realizing the objectives of the AmendedAct.
As such 22 cases were selected for presentation before the Jury of this Legal Clinic. Earlier we organized these Legal Clinics in closed halls with officials and victims face to face so that the officials can see the victims and witnesses physically, elicit information from them and respond appropriately. Victims and witnesses also gained confidence when the officials spoke to them and assured justice. But the Covid situation disrupted all our activities including a face to face interaction of victims and officials. As per the suggestion of the concerned officials, this time we organized this Legal Clinic through Zoom conference. All the victims concerning the 22 cases of atrocities gathered at a hall in hotel Viceroy, Guntur town and were seated in safe distance wearing masks. Ms.Jhansi Geddam, National Convener of DSS and Ms.Hemalatha., A.P.State Coordinator, assisted the victims and witnesses in presenting their cases and the agony in getting justice. A jury kit with all details of 22 cases, their present status was already given to the participating officials. Sri. M. Ravichandra, IAS, Principal Secretary, Social Welfare Department, Government of A.P. was the chief guest for the clinic, while Sri. Rajendra Prasad, Deputy Director of Prosecutions, Government of A.P. and Sri Suez, Director of State Women Commission were the other officials that participated in the Clinic. The 22 cases selected by DSS were most heinous involving atrocities like rape of minor girls. The cases selected were:
Attempt to murder
Caste abuse and attack
Rape of minor girls
The victims one after the other presented the details of how they were subjected to atrocity and narrated how they have been running from pillar to post in getting justice.
Most of the victims had problems in getting compensation as per the Act and in getting the accused arrested.The invited officials, Sri. Ravichandra and Sri. Rajendra Prasad interacted
with the victims and actively participated in the proceedings by enquiring the details from the victims, assuring them and consoling them. Both the officials appreciated DSS for organizing the clinic and bringing to their notice the situation of victims of atrocities.
Sri M. Ravichandra, IAS, Principal Secretary, Social Welfare Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh has said that he read the jury kit thoroughly and is fully aware of the cases.He attentively heard the woes of each victim and intervened to get further clarifications and gave appropriate suggestions in a few cases.He suggested that the case of minor girl
who was rapedmay have to be registered under Section 376, despite the fact that the accused married the victim to avoid criminal case. He said that the accused cheated the victim and had sex with her when she was below 18 years of age. Later, he married her, but the original crime of having sex with minor girl is a crime and continues to be so despite the marrying her later. If it is registered as rape as per rules, she will be given government job.
He observed that in most cases, the accused and victim are familiar to each other and there was cheating by the accused. In a situation like this, the victim is undergoing a crisis of whether to go for an atrocity case or to compromise. This type of crisis will create a psychological trauma in the victim and it is necessary to extend counselling to the victim. He assured to take care of the aspects of compensation and speedy justice and suggested DSS to extend the services of counselling the victim.
While analysing the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (PoA) Act he lamented that only 10% of the law is applied in actual practice. He commented that even after 31 years after the enactment of law there are still doubts as to various provisions of law. There are loop holes in payment of compensation and he said he is trying to get clear Government Orders for payment of compensation to be paid with the filing of charge sheet as per the judgment of the High Court. He added that the file concerning the compensation etc is pending for 8 months with the finance department. He added that he is working for developing a software at a cost of Rs.3 crores to monitor all cases from FIR to judgment and payment of compensation at every stage. He reminded that all departments will have to seriously work in implementation of the Act and that in the district of East Godavari when the treasury department dodged in clearing the files in time, they were warned that they would be charged under Section 4 of the Act. Further, he explained that he is trying to solve the issue of payment of pension of Rs.6,500/ by writing to the Government of India to make necessary changes as the Act limits only to Rs.5000/. Similarly, he said he had clarified the confusion prevailing with regard to ‘legal heirs’ and that in case the rape victim is alive, she will have to be paid all the benefits. He appreciated Dalit Sthree Sakthi and thanked DSS for organizing this legal clinic and arranging interaction with the victims of atrocities.
Sri. Rajendra Prasad, Deputy Director of Prosecutions, Government of A.P. participated with enthusiasm and clarified the issues that have come up in the presentation by the victims. He gave useful suggestions and assured suitable action wherever necessary. When the rape victim narrated her agony, he responded and explained that rape victims should seek legal assistance from the time of commission of offence from the Public Prosecutor under the Act. He said that the office of the Public Prosecutor is open 24 hours of the day to assist the victim and she can knock the door of the Public Prosecutor any time and he should extend all necessary assistance. If any Public Prosecutor doesn’t respond to assist the victim or DSS can complain to the DOP. Jhansi Geddam: At this stage the National Convener of DSS, Jhansi Geddam brought to the notice of Sri. Rajendra Prasad that PPs are not giving legal advice and they are simply sailing with the police and returning the file without any changes. Due to this, cases are not filed under proper sections thereby helping the accused. She pointed out that the accused are marrying the victims to avoid rape cases and the police are simply booking the cases under Section 498. Further, she brought to his notice that the police are serving the summons at the last minute in some cases the night before the trial and this is making it difficult for the victims and witnesses to attend the court. They are not briefed at all.
Sri Rajendra Prasad, responded that the entire Chapter 4A with 12 clauses extends protection of victims and witnesses. He said that the schedule for sessions trial is prepared 30 days before the commencement of the trial and assured disciplinary action against erring PPs/police and warned that they will be charged under Section 4 if they violate the rights of victims/witnesses. He cited the incident of how a PP is charged under Section 4 of the Act in Anantapur when she avoided a case by colluding with the accused.Referring to the minor girl who presented her case, he clarified that even if the victim is married also, she can restore previous FIR of rape and suggested to contact the PP at Guntur.
He suggested that the police are avoiding arrest by taking shelter under the decision of the Supreme Court. But they can always arrest if they note in the check list that the accused is likely to intimidate or destroy evidence. He felt that NGOs can guide the victims and bring pressure on the Public Prosecutor. NGOs should see that there are independent witnesses even if they are from the same community or are neighbours. If such independent witnesses are secured closure of cases can be avoided. If the victim has injuries then the evidence of the victim is enough even without independent witnesses. He suggested proper training of the witnesses to stand up against cross examination, particularly, the questions in cross examination to establish the victim as a Christian.
Ms. Jhansi Geddam thanked the officials for their enthusiastic participation and their assurances for rendering justice. Ms. Hemalatha thanked all the victims/witnesses and other network partner participants for the trouble taken by them in attending the clinic and making it a success.The media gave wide coverage of the Legal Clinic.
Ms. Suez,Director, State Women Commission who participated in the Clinic gave useful suggestions and assured to act on the complaints received by the Commission. She said that she will place all the cases submitted at the Clinic in the Women Commission and initiate appropriate action.