Against the backdrop of the recent Bharat Bandh called amidst protests against the Supreme Court order attempting to prevent misuse or abuse of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Dalit issues have come to dominate the space of news and public debate. A political narrative has also emerged that is being used to the blame the government at the Centre. In this debate, or game of political one-upmanship, rhetoric appears to have shrunk the space for facts – and, thereby, for the truth.
It is time, then, to take an objective look at the facts – the facts being what the current government has done over the last nearly four years for marginalised sections of society, especially for Dalits, or the SC/ST communities as they are called formally.
Since the current debate began with the SC order, let us see what the government has attempted to do in this regard. The Centre, soon after the apex court’s order, filed a review petition seeking a stay on its ruling that altered certain provisions of the Act.
But what had the government done prior to the current state of affairs? We seem to have had a demonstration of the Centre’s commitment to safeguarding the rights and dignity of SC/ST communities in the form of the ‘The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015’.
The amended law actually ensures more stringent provisions to prevent and to punish atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. There are four broad aspects to the amendment that we should note first:
- It sought to ensure speedier justice
- Common violations against Dalits not punishable in certain parts of India which were not under the purview of the old law, became punishable under the amended legislation
- Many more offences against Dalits were made punishable or more severely punishable than before. Earlier the number of categories of offences were about 22, raised to 47 by this amendment.
- Compensation for victims in the case of certain offences has also been increased manifold
Below is a list of offences which are punishable now and/or for which punishment has been made more severe:
- Tonsuring of head, moustache, and similar acts disrespectful towards SC/STs
- Garlanding with chappals
- Denying access to irrigation facilities
- Denying forest rights
- Asking someone to dispose of/ carry human/ animal carcasses, or to dig up graves
- Using or permitting manual scavenging
- Marking out SC/ST women as devadasis
- Atrocities in the name of witchcraft
- Imposing social or economic boycott
- Preventing SC/ST candidates from filing nominations for elections
- Hurting the dignity of an SC/ST woman by removing her garments
- Forcing someone who is an SC/ST to leave their house, village or residence
- Defiling objects sacred to SC/STs
- Using words, acts, gestures of a sexual nature against someone who is SC/ST
- Not allowing Dalit marriage processions
Other steps, too, have been taken to ensure the rights and dignity of SC/STs. A few instances are below:
- Addition of certain IPC offences like hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation, kidnapping, etc, attracting less than 10 years of imprisonment, committed against SC/STs, as offences punishable under the PoA Act
- Establishment of Exclusive Special Courts and specification of Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors also, to exclusively try offences under the PoA Act to enable speedy and expeditious disposal of cases
- Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts have the power to take direct cognisance of offence and as far as possible, completion of trial within two months from the date of filing of the chargesheet.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT THROUGH FLAGSHIP PROGRAMMES
Let us take a look at a short video on some of the flagship socio-economic empowerment schemes before we lay out some more facts
Almost all the important welfare schemes have the SC/ST communities among the major beneficiaries. This has happened as part of the natural progression of the schemes:
- In Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana, or Mudra, of the total number of beneficiaries in 2015-16 and 2016-17, SCs make up 17.77% of overall Mudra beneficiaries, while they are 16.63% of the total population of India. In the above-mentioned years, SC/ST/OBC beneficiaries together constitute 54.84% beneficiaries
- Under Mudra, at least 1.6 crore beneficiaries are Dalits
- Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), which aims at providing clean fuel to weaker sections of society through free LPG connections, had 38% beneficiaries from among SC/STs as of May 2017. Further, in February 2018, the Union Cabinet has approved expanding the scheme to cover all SC/ST households, beneficiaries of PMAY (Gramin), Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), forest dwellers, Most Backward Classes (MBC), Tea and Ex-Tea Garden Tribes, people residing on islands and rivers, etc, in addition to Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) identified households
- Almost 30% of Ujjwala beneficiaries are Dalits
- A programme like Jan-Dhan has enabled the unbanked to have bank accounts. Over 20 % of the 31 cr bank account holders are Dalits
- Under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G), houses are being distributed based on SECC. These houses have toilets, LPG connection, etc, thereby making one’s home a dignified place. Such a programme essentially helps weaker sections of society.
- Almost 28% of the total 46 lakh beneficiaries so far of the scheme are Dalits
Social Security – Jan Suraksha
- There are programmes like Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (accident insurance), Atal Pension Yojana (unorganised sector) and Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Yojana (life insurance) from which weaker sections of society are benefitting.
- There are a total 13.47 crore beneficiaries under Suraksha Bima and 5.32 crore under Jeevan Jyoti. Under Atal Pension Yojana, there are 97.05 lakh beneficiaries as of 2017-18. Cumulatively, the Jan Suraksha portfolio covers about 19 crore people.
Education & Training
- 5.7 crore underprivileged students received scholarship support worth Rs. 15,918 crores in last 4 years
- Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY) has trained 5.7 lakh youth so far. It is mandated to have SC/STs as 50% of the candidates, which means about 2.8 lakh SC/ST youth have been provided skill training.
- Means-cum-merit scholarships were received by 7.39 lakh students in the last four years
- Lack of access to safe sanitation facilities cause great harm to the health and dignity. This impacts the poor and marginalised adversely, especially the women among them.
- Swachh Bharat has made strides in boosting sanitation coverage. As of October 2014, the sanitation coverage stood at 30.87%. This has shot up to more than 80% as of now!
- More toilets have been constructed in the last 4 years (6.75 crore) than in the period between independence and 2014 (6.37 crore).
- These measures constitute a quantum leap in ensuring healthy lives for crores of the underprivileged sections of society, who are being freed from the embarrassment of open defecation.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT: ENCOURAGING ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Perhaps the most interesting and visible difference that the current government has made in socio-economic empowerment is to shift from India’s traditional handout culture – which helped to do little more than catch votes – to irreversible empowerment through entrepreneurship.
The government has been attempting to tap into the entrepreneurship spirit within the SC/ST community, thereby making them job-creators. Some examples are below:
- Stand-Up India: Launched in April 2016, this scheme promotes entrepreneurship among SC/STs and women by providing loans in the range of Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore. As of March 2018, around 55,000 such entrepreneurs have been funded
- National SC/ST Hub: Launched on October 2016, with an initial allotment of Rs 490 crore for the period 2016-20, the hub promotes SC/ST entrepreneurs by strengthening market access/ linkage, monitoring, capacity-building, leveraging financial support schemes and sharing industry best practices etc
- With effect from April 1, 2015, the public procurement order mandates 4% annual procurement by Central Ministries/ Departments and Public-Sector Undertakings from SC/ST enterprises
- Venture Capital Funds: Launched in January 2015, it aims to provide concessional finance to the SC entrepreneurs, who will create wealth and value for society. Venture capital worth more than Rs 250 crores has been given to 70 leading Dalit entrepreneurs. This has happened perhaps for the first time.
- Green Business Scheme loan for unit cost up to Rs 1 lakh at concessional rates of interest are provided to SCs for climate-friendly employment, such as e-rickshaws, solar pumps and solar energy-powered implements, poly house, etc
EMPOWERING SCHEDULED TRIBES
- Land Titles: For decades, tribes and forest dwellers did not get titles to their land. The government fast-tracked implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. About 52 lakh individual and community titles have been distributed in the first three years of this government. There has also been an increase in the extent of forest land from roughly 32 lakh hectares to 55 lakh hectares in the same period
- Minor Forest Produces (MFP) constitute 20-40% annual income of tribals. Although the Minimum Support Price (MSP) was there for the MFP from 2013-14, there were hiccups in implementation. In November 2016, the area coverage under the scheme was extended to all states and 14 new items were added. Freedom has been given to the states for fixing the MSP 10% above or below the MSP rate decided by the Union Ministry.
- Vanjeevan: Launched in December 2016 with UNDP assistance, the National Resource Centre for Tribal Livelihood, popularly known as “Vanjeevan”, acts as a research and technical hub to further socio-economic development of tribal communities by means of employment and entrepreneurship
- Marketing: In September 2017, TRIFED (Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited) signed an MoU with Amazon to sell tribal products. Tribal handicraft like handloom products, cane and bamboo products, jewellery, Dhokra craft, tribal weaves and embroidery, tribal paintings, etc, are expected to greatly benefit by this move
- Bamboo Mission: There are an estimated 20 million people involved in bamboo-related activities, mostly from the tribal population. The current government first amended the 90-year-old “Indian Forest Act of 1927” and the amendment has exempted bamboo grown in non-forest land from the Forest Act. It was followed with the announcement of “National Bamboo Mission” in Budget 2018-19 with the allocation of Rs 1,290 crore.
HONOURING DR AMBEDKAR
The current government, led by the Prime Minister, has taken specific interest in honouring Dr B.R. Ambedkar as one of the key nation-builders. Below are some examples of how his legacy is being honoured and promoted for the nation to take note of his life and ideas and also for posterity to learn from him:
- On March 21, 2016, Prime Minister Modi laid the foundation stone for the Dr B.R. Ambedkar National Memorial, to be built at 26, Alipur Road in Delhi, the place of his Mahaparinirvan. The memorial has been inaugurated on April 13 this year, a day before Dr Ambedkar’s birth anniversary. The point to note here, for students of history, is that several decades after Independence, during which other governments had been in office, nobody had managed to set up this memorial.
- In October 2015, PM Modi had laid the foundation stone of the Dr B.R. Ambedkar Memorial in Mumbai
- The PM laid the foundation stone at the Ambedkar International Centre in Delhi and inaugurated it in December 2017
- On November 19, 2015, the government declared November 26 Constitution Day, in honour of Dr Ambedkar
- In November 2015, during his trip to the UK, PM Modi, along with the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, inaugurated the B.R. Ambedkar memorial in London. This too was a significant feat, as the Maharashtra government had purchased Dr Ambedkar’s house in London in September 2015
- The government has also decided to develop five places as “Panchteerth” in honour of Dr Ambedkar. These include his birthplace in Mhow, the place in London where he stayed while studying in the UK, Deeksha Bhoomi in Nagpur, Mahaparinirvan Sthal in Delhi, and Chaitya Bhoomi in Mumbai
- The fact that Narendra Modi is only the second Prime Minister to visit Chaitya Bhoomi in the last few decades is also not hard to miss.
EXPANDING DR AMBEDKAR’S IDEAS
The current government has been projecting and promoting Dr Ambedkar’s ideas and opinion in many areas, such as the economy, industrialisation and infrastructure, technology and skills-development, and the role of women. Below are some instances of what has been done in the last four years in honouring Dr Ambedkar:
- BHIM App: Bharat Interface for Money is perhaps a big step towards both a digital and less-cash India. In December 2016, PM Modi launched it, naming the e-payment mode after Dr Ambedkar
- Waterways: Inaugurating the Maritime India Summit in April 14, 2016, the PM had recalled Dr Ambedkar as “the architect of the water and river navigation policy in India”, which is an area of his work which has not been noticed enough.
From the facts presented above, we see that from legal protection to socio-economic empowerment, from encouraging entrepreneurship to honouring Dr Ambedkar and his legacy, a lot has been done to make Dalit lives better.