Forcing SCs/STs to remove animal carcasses, digging graves and employing them against their wishes as manual scavengers and drum beaters should be made a criminal offence punishable with a five-year imprisonment, Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) has recommended to the government.
In a comprehensive set of suggestions to update the two-decade-old law titled Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, the NAC has also suggested that the tradition of dedicating SC/ST women as devdasis be declared a crime.
The NAC working group on ‘dalit issues’ has stated that the poor implementation of the existing law has exposed “several lacunae” that would need to be addressed on an urgent basis.
“SCs and STs are subjected to a wide range of discriminatory practices, based on untouchability that enforces social disability. Therefore, such discriminatory practices need to be checked through an updated legal framework,” it stated.
The panel has pointed out that the relevant section in the existing law has a restricted definition. “It is recommended that its scope be expanded to include forcing a SC/ST member to remove carcasses, forcing them to dig graves, do drum beating and manual scavenging in its ambit as criminal offences.”
It has also suggested that “caste-based abuse and humiliation, harassment, hate speech or disfigurement or defiling of symbols held sacred by the SC/ST community, including statues and images be included in the section which treats intentional insults as a crime.”