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My first encounter with the Dalit Atrocities Act

Two reports secured a significant place in the mainstream media on Tuesday. The first was a Supreme Court observation in which the apex court expressed its anxiety over the misuse of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention and Atrocities) Act and the second was a statement of Union Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale in which he expressed anxiety over politicising atrocities against Dalits.

My first encounter with The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Act was staged near Mahad in Raigad district where two state transport buses and some other vehicles fell into the swollen Savitri River after the bridge collapsed on the night of August 2, 2016. I left headquarter for Raigad immediately along with my team. By the time we reached NDRF, Navy, Coast Guard and other agencies were carrying out search operation on war footing. With the help of local administration, we deployed our OB Van and started hot switches from the spot. I noticed that the cameraperson didn’t off the camera even after hot switch gets over. It was surprising because, we had only four batteries and I was instructed by Delhi Headquarter that hot switched would be carried out in the morning bulletins next day. I asked my cameraperson to switch off the camera as we didn’t have good logistic support there.

With the support of locals, I managed accommodation for my camera person, assistant and driver for one night and asked them to be prepared for hot switches for the next day as search operation for missing bodies was expected to be continued.

Our first morning bulleting was at 7-8 a.m. What surprised me was the camera, which was left switched on even after hot switch got over. This time, I directly asked my camera person why he wanted to drain the batteries! He maintained that he didn’t notice. In the next bulletin, I was told that battery is about to drain so entire day hot switches were not possible. I informed Delhi Headquarter and they asked me to remain present on the spot and try to find an alternative. My camera person refused to stay as he argued that he had no business without camera. After a short argument, he left alone by public transport as I didn’t let him take the official vehicle, which was supposed to be moved only by my instruction. I hired a private cameraperson and completed the assignment.

In Mumbai, I submitted my ordeal to the competent authority as I was asked to do. I was expecting an official memo to be served to the camera person for his misconduct and reluctance to perform duty. When, after few days, I wanted to know the status of the complaint, I learnt that the camerperson has filed a complaint in the minority commission and also threatened Grade I officer to falsely implicate in Dalit Atrocities Act.

I left stunned.

We must observe fresh Supreme Court observation in the light of equality. As the division bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit have rightly said that steps should be taken to achieve the constitutional goal of a caste-less society and prevent misuse of law resulting in spreading hatred on caste lines.

We must not forget the Kopardi gang rape case in which the accused had threatened the victim’s family not to file a case against them otherwise they’ll file a false case against the family, who belonged to Maratha community, under SC/ST Act.

We must welcome the Supreme Court for coming out with a clear stand on this burning issue.

Y K Sheetal

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