• Parinati Mishra

Right against untouchability

Untouchability is one of the worst possible forms of social stigma in Indian society. It has been prevalent since time immemorial. The classification was primarily based upon the

‘varna’ system of castes in India also mentioned in the Rig Veda. It divides the Hindu

population into four classes- Brahmin, Vaishya, Kshatriya, and Shudra. The order of

supremacy is also the same respectively (in descending order). These classes are called

‘Dalits’, but officially Scheduled caste. The father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi had coined the term ‘Harijan’ for these depressed classes, meaning children of God and after retiring from active politics he had entirely devoted himself to the upliftment of this section.

Untouchability has been the cause for the exploitation of a large number of people irrespective of their age group or sex. In earlier times, they were devoid of basic facilities given to people from other strata of the society. They were not allowed to perform daily life activities with others and given inhumane treatment by the so-called high caste Hindus. They were not allowed to go to the common schools or use public places or draw water from the wells. For years, these people have been subjected to this differential treatment for the mere reason that they have been born in a particular caste. The awareness with regard to the same was and is being raised.

The objective is to bring equality among those people with the other sections of the society. The constitution of India also states certain provision which has facilitated the government of India to make special laws for their social and economic betterment. India, being a democracy invites more participation of people and for better representation, reservations are also being provided to these people. It is essential for the people to be aware of their rights which are safeguarded in the constitution of India. The fundamental rights, which are enshrined in Part-III of the constitution, under Article- 17 talks about the abolition of untouchability in any form. Under the provision,talk any disability which might arise due to untouchability is punishable in accordance with the law. The government had also passed two very important acts in the light of the same issue. As per the chronological order the first one being the untouchability Offenses Act, 1955. This act was changed to the Protection of Civil Rights Act in the year 1976. The element which makes the legislation powerful is that the onus of proof of the practice of untouchability lies on the part of the accused and not the victim. This legislation imposes a penalty on anyone who prevents people belonging to these two sections from enjoying their social, occupational or religious rights on this basis.

The Protection of Civil Rights Rules were also laid down in the year 1977. The act is applicable to the whole of India and discourages untouchability in any form. The offenses which are under the ambit of this practice are: preventing from entering into public places such as temples, shops, cremation grounds, etc or not allowing usage of sacred water resources. It also includes refusal of admission in any hospital or educational institution or not selling any particular good. These offenses also include any injury caused to such person(s). People cannot be compelled to perform acts of scavenging or removing any carcass. Various preventive measures are also stated such as the suspension of licenses, punishment for wilful neglect of investigation by public servants. It also empowers the state government to collect fines. Provisions are also there for proper legal aid to be given to any person(s) subjected to disability arising out of untouchability. This provision is also upheld by Article 39-A in the constitution of India.

In modern times the practice of untouchability rose to extremely unpleasant proportions and new legislation was enacted. Thus, the second significant legislation is the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. It was also turned into stricter legislation in the year 2016. The aim of which is to prevent the commission of any atrocities against people belonging to the scheduled offenses castes or scheduled tribes. The act incorporated provisions for the punishment of government officials who neglect their duties and responsibilities under the act. It also empowers these people by the provision of special courts for the trial of any such offences. It is also essential to note that it also aims to provide rehabilitation and relief to the victims of such offenses, which in my opinion is imperative and should be taken care of. This particular act covers the definition of the term “atrocity” in an elaborate manner under Section- 3 of the act and states that any person, not being a member of the SC/ST, commits such offense shall be punishable with an imprisonment term of not less than six months and may extend to five years and fine. The act is further laid down with provisions that cover all possible forms of atrocities that could be inflicted upon the member of these communities and provides legal backing to them.

Thus, conclusively it could be said that though the complete transformation of the society has a long way to go, however, the legal provisions ensure the protection of the scheduled offensesrights of all individuals. The creation of awareness can help people raise voices against their exploitation in any manner.

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