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Dalits in India 2000

Villagers of India. (Mira (on the wall)/Flickr)

Villagers of India. (Mira (on the wall)/Flickr)

The second thing about the national campaign… I am very well aware of them, I know these people very well. I know Henry Tiffany very well. When they held their public hearing on April 18 it was a very moving experience for me. I refused to be in the jury. I said it was not for a journalist to be on the jury. They sent me a summons as a witness. So that was a legitimate role and I went. I am glad that I did. One, I was very moved by the fact that a lot of the cases presented were indeed from The Hindu newspaper series and it was also an opportunity for me… I knew 60 per cent of the audience because they were the people in the stories. I was seeing them all in one hall, it was a very moving experience. Apart from The Hindu, other major newspapers did not give any coverage to the public hearing. There is a very discriminatory attitude towards the whole thing. If you don’t see it, it does not happen. That’s the thing about the press. It is extremely unrepresentative, very hostile. There are ways we can break it. We are trying. The royalties of the book, Everybody Loves a Good Drought, are entirely written to young rural journalists and the first winner was an Adivasi journalist. Next are two young Dalit reporters from Kalahandi. I mean we have to try, we have to try to break through these barriers. I think it can happen. I think it can be done.

I have actually worked very hard on the Prevention of Atrocities Act. I have looked through police files looking for false cases. The only false cases that we found were filed under coercion from a landlord; there were two such cases. The other thing was the conviction rate on genuine cases. In Rajasthan the conviction rate for atrocities acknowledged to have happened (ie, the police agree that these atrocities occurred) was less than three per cent. In Dolpur district I had access to the actual files of the cases, and the conviction rate was 2.5 per cent. In Tonk district it was 1.5 per cent. The judge was writing law. The highest punishment was Rs. 500 fine and one year’s probation. I don’t know what 1 year’s probation means in the legal system but anyway, the judge knows more than I do. The result of this was that anti-scheduled crimes between 1981 and 1991 went up 23 or 24 per cent.

So, yes, the Prevention of Atrocities Act has very stringent provisions but your rights are as secure as the process that defends them. I think that the Indian Constitution has some really tremendous things on paper. I mean it has the abolition of child labor on paper. It has women as equals. It will put women in a much better position if it is implemented. But who is to implement it? Here again the role of mass movements and public action becomes important. But, yes, to answer your question, the Prevention of Atrocities Act could be a very powerful instrument if implemented. Let me mention now the international campaign in December submitted 2.5 million and 20 lakh signatures to the Prime Minister as part of the Act.

Shyama Venkateswar Unfortunately we are out of time. Thank you all for coming and thank you, Mr. Sainath, for helping to generate a very lively discussion this afternoon.