Many organisations, especially those claiming to represent the Dalit community, are observing "Bharat Bandh" across the country today.
The "Bharat Bandh" has been called against the Supreme Court ruling diluting some of the stringent provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The bandh has the support of most of the political parties.
At least seven people have been killed so far in violent protests across the country during the bandh.
The central government on Monday filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against its order.
However, the apex court declined urgent hearing on the matter saying it will be heard in the due course.
The 1989 SC/ST Act provided for immediate arrests and registration of criminal cases against the accused. Not only that, there was no provision for anticipatory bail under this Act.
However, expressing concern over the misuse of the SC/ST Act, the Supreme Court on March 20 diluted some of the stringent provisions of the Act which infuriated the Dalit community.
In its order, the apex court said that public servants can't be prosecuted under this Act without the approval of the appointing authority. In case of private citizens, the SC said that a person should be arrested only after an inquiry under the law. The apex court also set a time frame of 7 days for the completion of such enquiries. It also added that the permission of Senior Superintendent of Police would be necessary for the arrest of a private citizen.
However, the SC order did not go down well with either the Dalit organisations or the Dalit leaders from most of the political parties, both from ruling and opposition sides, who expressed apprehension over the apex court ruling leading to increase in cases of harassment of members of SC/ST community.
What triggered the controversy?
The present controversy started after a member of Scheduled Caste(SC) community lodged a complaint against a government officer named Kashinath Mahajan in Maharashtra.
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According to the complaint, Mahajan did not allow legal action to be taken against two of his junior officers who were accused of making objectionable remarks (casteist remarks) against the complainant.
These officers (not belonging to SC community) had made negative remarks against the SC man in his ACR (Annual Confidential Report). When the police officer, investigating this case, sought the permission of their senior officer for prosecuting them, it was denied after which a case was registered against the senior officer as well.
However, the defendants pointed out that if making remarks against a man belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC) becomes a crime then it would be difficult to discharge responsibilities.
Kashinath Mahajan, the senior government officer, approached the Bombay High Court for quashing the charge sheet. However, the High Court refused to provide any relief and rejected his plea.
Mahajan then challenged Bombay High Court’s order in the Supreme Court. The apex court ordered quashing of the FIR against Mahajan and ruled against immediate arrest of the accused under SC/ST Act.
The apex court also ruled that anticipatory bail can be granted to the accused in such cases.
Watch Video: Bandh on SC, ST Act Ruling: Four dead in MP during police-protester clash