A way to effectively address caste-based discrimination in India is by reforming institutions of justice administration. This means changing the manner in which institutions like the police, prosecution and judiciary function in the region. At the moment, what are obtained in the name of human rights are only empty promises. When public institutions of justice fail having a law to guarantee non-discrimination of Dalits is of no meaning. What is achieved in India will have tremendous influence in the region.

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)*

Police reforms

Despite constitutional protection and laws like the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 there is hardly any improvement in the investigations into the violations of Dalit rights. The reason is quite obvious. The investigators are the police and among them prejudices against Dalits run deep.

The Indian police is primitive concerning the caste issue. It can be also said that police is the most undeveloped of all the public institutions in the country. A combination of factors, including its colonial origin and the overwhelming influence of old Indian prejudices have made the Indian policing system one of the most archaic institutions of the world.

India has attempted to modernise many of its institutions and achieve some degree of success. In commerce, for example banking, India has achieved remarkable success and today is in a position to compete efficiently with the rest of the world. However, when it comes to policing progressive ideas have been rejected. This is also clearly the case regarding the elimination of violence against the Dalits, Scheduled Tribes as well as the poorer classes of the society. This is despite political promises by all parties to end caste-based treatment of the people and of ensuring equality for all Indians.

The Indian police see themselves as oppressors and controllers of the poorer classes. The suppression of all moves by the poor to organise themselves for the purpose of achieving improvement in their lives is obstructed by the police by the use of torture and extraordinary forms of inhuman and degrading treatment. Higher-ranking police officers have acquired enormous ‘expertise’ in humiliating, intimidating and where they think it necessary, in the use of violence against Dalits and all the poor. Creative writers in the country have demonstrated the almost demonic nature of the Indian police when it comes to the treatment of Dalits and the poor.

Dalit movement’s failure to fight for police reforms

It is rather strange that the Dalit movement in India has not directed its efforts to achieve police reforms despite the policing system being the instigator and plays a major role in their oppression. In this failure lies the inability to win over practical results in terms of actual lives of the Dalits. Whatever they achieve by way of legislation and political promises by various governments, none of these are translated into actual affirmative actions since the police plays the role of the implementer. The Dalit leadership needs to develop their expertise in getting the laws, which could have a positive effect on their lives translated into actual implementation by achieving reforms in the institutions of implementation, such as the police.

More intellectual effort is required by the Dalit movement to confront the oppressive role of the police. The Dalits should become an active agent of police reform. Particularly in the area of investigations of crimes against the Dalits about which at the moment the Indian police show little interest and even less efficiency. The Dalit movement should realise that the country’s police are conditioned by a policy within the institution to defeat the calls for justice by way of sabotaging investigations. Once the investigations are sabotaged there is little chance of success in judicial actions. In courts, everything depends on evidence and when the evidence collection is sabotaged the perpetrators of the attacks against Dalits are ensured impunity. The architect of impunity in crimes against Dalits is the Indian policing system.

The policing system relies on oral statements from the witnesses regarding crimes. In crimes against the Dalits persons who belong to privileged classes obstruct investigations and also do not provide the information required to the police. On the other hand witnesses from the Dalit community itself are afraid of the consequences, to them and their families, and often do not come forward to give evidence. The police then write their reports to the courts stating that there is no evidence to proceed regarding allegations of crime relating to the Dalits.

Modern policing relies heavily on technological advances in dealing with crime. India has the wealth and all the resources required to reform its policing system and bring it in par with policing systems of the developed countries. Without achieving this fundamental reform and placing priority on evidence gathering through scientific methods, laws like the Prevention of Atrocities Act will be of little use.

If the Dalit movement is to develop the expertise in playing the role of a public opinion maker for police reforms, the Dalit leadership should acquire knowledge and skill in dealing with this issue. The meticulous documentation of the manner in which the Indian police sabotage inquiries into crimes against Dalits could be a significant way for influencing public opinion in India as well as outside. Dalit leaders should request and obtain technical advice required in developing their skills in order to achieve reforms of their policing system.

Every little achievement in making the Indian police accountable in terms of the rule of law will bring about enormous freedoms to the Dalits. With such freedom Dalits will achieve improvements in life, and will acquire skills, which will enable them to break away from the bondage of caste-based employment, and various other humiliating experiences Dalits are exposed to today.

Indian judiciary

Despite some encouraging trends from the Indian judiciary to ensure equality before law, the examination of many cases shows shocking attitudes by the judiciary when dealing with crimes relating to Dalits. The ancient mentalities that refuse to recognise Dalits as equals before the law is often reflected in the manner in which cases relating to Dalits are dealt with and even by way of sentences against the perpetrators of these crimes, who are treated often with extraordinary lenience by some courts.

The Dalit movement needs to acquire the knowledge and the skill to fight against the limitations of the judiciary. This again requires meticulous documentation of judicial behaviour in caste related crimes and violence. With such documentation the Dalit movement can influence public opinion in India. The Dalit movement must now bear to confront the oppressive system of justice and demand changes.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is  a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. AHRC is an International Associate of IDSN