‘Disproportionately high death sentences against Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims’
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In their joint submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to meet for the listing of adoption of list of issues at its 126th session, July 1-26, 2019, top Dalit rights organizations have taken strong exception to, among other things, “disproportional application of death sentencing by the judiciary of minorities, such as Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis”. Prepared by National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ), which is attached with the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), and the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), the submission wonders how could the state explain the “discrepancy between the rise of crimes against Scheduled Castes and the low rates of conviction of these crimes, despite the enactment of the Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.”
The caste and religious profile of individuals whose death sentences have been confirmed shows that a disproportionate section come from Dalit community and religious minority families. According to the Death Penalty India Report, NLS, 76% (279 prisoners) of prisoners sentenced to death in India belong to backward classes and religious minorities, with all 12 female prisoners belonging to backward classes and religious minorities. While the proportion of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes amongst all prisoners sentenced to death in India was 24.5%, that proportion was significantly higher in Maharashtra (50%), Karnataka (36.4%), Madhya Pradesh (36%), Bihar (31.4%) and Jharkhand (30.8%), amongst states with 10 or more prisoners sentenced to death. Of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes prisoners, 85.4% were also economically vulnerable. For religious minorities, this proportion was 76%, compared to 64.4% for the general category. This intersectionality mirrors contemporary society, and meant that the experiences of certain categories of death row prisoners and their families were also different. Religious minorities, for whom the all-India proportion is 20.7%, saw a disproportionate share of convicts in Gujarat, where 15 out of the 19 (79%) prisoners sentenced to death were Muslim. According to the 2011 census, 9.67% of the state is Muslim. In Kerala, 60% of death row prisoners were from religious minorities (relative to 42.25% of the population, according to the 2011 Census) – five Muslims and four Christians amongst 15 death row prisoners. Karnataka too saw a large proportion of religious minorities on death row, 31.8% of the total. This is relative to 16.01% of the state being from religious minorities. At the lowest rung the social profile of prisoners sentenced to death more or less reflects the overall national figures. However, as we move up the hierarchy of the legal process, we see the proportion of general category prisoners falling and the proportion of SC/ STs and religious minorities increasing. In death penalty cases pending in the Supreme Court, the proportion of general category is 15.7% while it is 26.7% in the High Court pending cases. The proportion of SC/STs rose to 27.5% in the category of Supreme Court pending cases from 20.7% at the High Court pending stage. The proportion of SC/STs further increased to 42% at the mercy stage. Religious minorities comprised 19.6% of the cases at the High Court pending stage but their proportion increased to 29.4% at the Supreme Court pending stage. The proportion of the general category at the mercy stage is 18%, which is the same as the proportion of religious minorities.
Recommended question: To what reasons does the State party attribute the disproportional application of death sentencing by the Judiciary of minorities, such as Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis? While the reporting of crime against Dalits and Adivasis has risen over the decade, there has not been an equivalent rise in the rate of disposal of cases by the police and courts under one of the protective laws for Dalit’s and Adivasis i.e, Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and Rules 1995 as amended in 2016. As many as 422,799 crimes against Dalits or Scheduled castes (SCs) and 81,332 crimes against adivasis were reported between 2006 and 2016. The highest increases in crimes were recorded in eight states Goa, Kerala, Delhi, Gujarat, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Sikkim where rates rose over 10 times. Meanwhile 81,322 crimes against adivasis have been reported from 2006 to 2016, with the highest increases in crime rates recorded in Kerala, Karnataka and Bihar. Cases of crimes against Scheduled Castes pending police investigation have nearly doubled (99%), from 8,380 cases in 2006 to 16,654 cases in 2016. In the case of crime against Scheduled Tribes, pendency of investigation has risen 55% from 1,679 cases in 2006 to 2,602 cases by the end of 2016. In courts, crimes against Scheduled Castes pending trial have risen by 50% over the decade from 85,264 to 129,831 as of 2016. In 2016 alone, 40,801 new crimes against Dalit’s were registered under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and less than 15,000 cases completed trial that year. The number of trials completed in court has dropped by 28% from 20,495 in 2006 to 14,615 in 2016. For Scheduled Tribes, trials completed in a year has nearly halved (by 49%) since 2006 from 2,895 to 4,317 in 2016. While those pending trial has risen by 28%. Conviction rate remains less than 30% over a decade. Among the crimes that do get disposed of in court, about a quarter lead to convictions in crimes against Dalits. As of 2016, this conviction rate calculated by dividing the number of convictions in a year by number of cases completing trial in a year stood at 26%, a 2 % point decline from the rate a decade ago (28%). Accused persons in the rest 74% of cases completing trial in 2016 were acquitted, which again is a rise from 2006 when 72% of cases led to acquittals. The conviction rate in cases of crime against Scheduled Tribes, at 21% in 2016, is even worse, showing a 7-percentage-point decline from 2006 (28%) with the rest 79% acquitted.
Recommended question: Could the State party explain the discrepancy between the rise of crimes against Scheduled Castes and the low rates of conviction of these crimes, despite the enactment of the Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989? As many as 422,799 crimes against Dalits and 81,332 crimes against Adivasis were reported between 2006 and 2016. Over the decade to 2016, crime rate against Dalit’s rose by 25%; from 16.3 crimes per 100,000 Dalits reported in 2006, to 20.3 crimes in 2016. Cases pending police investigation for both marginalised groups has risen by 99% and 55% respectively, while the pendency in courts has risen by 50% and 28%, respectively. The conviction rates for crime against SCs and STs have fallen by 2% points and 7% points, respectively, to 26% and 21%, from 2006 to 2016. The recent gruesome report of the beheading of a Dalit minor girl in Tamil Nadu49 for rejecting the advances of an upper caste male once again throws the issue of caste discrimination into sharp focus. Women from Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence due to the intersection of caste and gender. In 2016, nearly 16% of the total atrocities against SCs constituted offences against SC women. This figure was double, almost 30%, with respect to ST women. Of the four Southern States, the proportion of crimes against SC (29.8%) and ST (60.9%) women in the overall crimes was highest in Kerala, against the national average of 15.9% and 41.7% respectively. The proportion of offences against ST women is half the total number of offences in Kerala which has consistently recorded extremely high incidence of crimes against ST women, in keeping with the overall large number of offences against STs. Tamil Nadu has reported the lowest proportion of offences against SC and ST women, between 5-8% among the four States between 2014 and 2016. While Andhra Pradesh also reported similar numbers as Tamil Nadu in 2014 and 2015, the crimes against SC (19%) and ST (20.4%) women as a proportion of overall crimes spiked in 2016. If we consider the registered cases of rape alone, out of a total of 36,657 registered offences of rape committed against women in 2016 and registered under the IPC, 2,536 registered cases of rape were committed against SC women (6.9%) and 972 registered cases of rape were committed against ST women (2.6%). Kerala has consistently recorded the highest number of registered cases of rape against ST women, clocking crime rates of 8.7, 9.7 and 9.7 in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, has recorded, with a total of 319 registered cases of rape against women in 2016, of which 40 cases were offences of rape committed against SC women and 1 case of rape against an ST woman. Caste inspired violence against Dalits and Adivasis has become increasingly common across India over the last few years and the audacity with which they are conducted suggests a complete absence of fear of consequences. These crimes range from lynching and mob violence to violence inflicted by vigilantes, sexual assault and even outright murder. Dalits and Adivasis have borne the brunt of a large chunk of this violence. The trigger is either the suspected consumption of beef or even the whiff of an interfaith or inter-caste relationship, alledged theft, or alleging petty offences. Recommended question: Does the State party perceive the alarming rates of violence, including sexual violence, against women belonging to minorities such as Dalits and Adivasis as a challenge in the implementation of Articles 10.1 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CICCPR)? If so, has the State party put in place any strategy or plan in order to reduce these rates, and also addressing the feeling of impunity in such cases?