Tackling Caste Discrimination Through Law: CLPR event conducted at Karnataka HC

Rintu Mariam Biju December 3 2019
CLPR

Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR) on Saturday conducted a learning session for lawyers at the Karnataka High Court on the topic of Tackling Caste Discrimination through Law.

The interactive seminar had four sessions covering various topics such as The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955: How can it be effectively used?  Manual Scavenging and the Law, and the Karnataka Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1982.

Speaking on the SC/ST Act, former Madras High Court judge Justice K Chandru stated that caste discrimination is very prevalent in our society even now. He said that members of the legal fraternity, especially judges, should be aware of the rights of the people.

“Every day is a learning process. As a Judge, you should be conscious of the rights of the people. When the Constitution grows, our thinking must also grow.”

Justice Chandru went on to state that Article 15 of the Constitution is the backbone of the right to equality. He conducted a presentation based on personal experiences and various judgments related to the topic. He observed that a member of the SC/ST community had to climb several walls of hindrances before accessing justice even after 70 years of the adoption of the Constitution.

Vice-Chancellor of NLSIU and Managing Trustee of CLPR Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy also spoke at the event. He dealt with the topic of how the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 could be made more effective.

Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy

Referring to a report prepared by NLSIU, he stated,

“There are very low levels of case reporting under the PCRA Act. The numbers roughly would be 300 cases, pan India. If you get into some more statistics, states of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar have shown some improvement. Levels of conviction are also very low under the Act."

He further proceeded to state that the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2017 did not even focus on crimes under the PCRA, as the numbers were so small. The levels of successful conviction were as low was 13%, pan India, Professor Krishnaswamy noted.

“Levels of awareness are very low, people do not even know that the Act exists."

As a way to improve awareness about the PCRA, he stated

“Apart from reporting offences, people are also interested in compensation. PCRA must have a chapter on Economic Tort.”

Arkaja Singh of the Centre for Policy Research addressed the persisting issue of manual scavenging in India. She said,

The law from the perspective of sanitation technologies includes both networked and non-networked scenarios. From the labour perspective, sanitation work is increasingly informalized and ad hoc… I think there should be no reason why a person still enters a septic tank.”

Lawyer and activist Arvind Narrain also spoke on the issue of manual scavenging.

Senior Advocate and CLPR Executive Director Jayna Kothari said that one of the main reasons behind the seminar was to “equip lawyers to be familiar with the law”. She said,

Nobody wants to talk about caste discrimination these days. Access to justice is very important in such matters. One of the main reasons behind this programme is to equip lawyers to be familiar with the law. Recently, in Karnataka, a dalit lawyer was raped and murdered gruesomely. We still do not know what happened to the investigation in that case. The larger goal of this session is to end discrimination in our society."