Between 2016 and 2020, 300 SC/ST persons have been murdered in Tamil Nadu and only 13 convictions have taken place. Drawing from RTI data, Evidence, an NGO based in Madurai, released a report on September 14, on caste crimes in Tamil Nadu over the last five years (from January 2016 to December 2020). The organisation, run by the founder and executive director A Kathir, works to help secure Dalit and tribal rights.
The RTI data comes from 35 of the 38 districts in the state, and the report says that 300 SC/ST persons have been murdered in the state. A majority of the casesâ€”229â€”are in the courts where proceedings are ongoing or yet to even come before a judge after being filed, leaving 28 pending police investigations. The report also says that there have been 13 convictions and 30 acquittals over the five-year period.
The remaining five districts, namely Ariyalur, Chennai, Kanyakumari, Tiruppur and Mayiladuthurai, did not send data. In the case of Tirunelveli district, only data regarding Tirunelveli city was sent, the rural areas where the majority of caste crimes occur has not been sent, says Kathir, adding that both Ariyalur and Tiruppur refused while the others gave no reply. The report says that an estimate of the total number of murders if the five districts had also sent data, may increase to 340 to 350.
The data regarding the 300 murders, expose grim trends in low conviction rates and pending cases either in the courts or with the police. Thoothukudi district tops the list with the highest number of murders (29) followed by Madurai district (28) with nine of the murders having taken place in Madurai city alone.
Of the 29 cases in Thoothukudi, 22 are still pending in court and there have been four acquittals. In the case of Madurai district, 20 cases are still pending in court and four others have been acquittals. The conviction numbers in both districts stand at zero and three, respectively. Kallakuruchi has witnessed 24 murders all in the last two years with 19 of them still pending investigation and five cases yet to come before a judge.Further, there were 19 murders in Nagapattinam district and 17 in Coimbatore, the RTI data reveals. Going by all of the data received, an average of 5 to 6 caste murders of SC/ST persons happened every month from 2016 to 2020, the report says.
A higher number of SC/ST men are the murder victims says Kathir and the reasons range from disagreements over land, anti-caste activism, temple entry and inter-caste marriages.
Long delays, pending judgements and low conviction rates
The 2015 amendment to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, commonly called PoA Act, clearly state that the judgments in cases filed under the act must be given within two months of filing the chargesheet, yet judgment is pending in 86% of the cases from 2016 â€“ 2020, the report says.
Speaking to TNM, Kathir says there are delays at each stage, from the filing of the FIR or the chargesheet to the actual pronouncement of the judgment. Often, in the case of convictions, the sentencing is under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) alone and not under PoA.
He also alleges that in the case of acquittals the state does not appeal the verdict on time and that the performance of public prosecutors nor that of the investigating police officer are up to par. Chargesheets are often too weak, he says, adding that there are delays also in the arrest of the accused once the FIR is filed and in the monetary compensation reaching the victim's families.
â€śThroughout the investigative process there are missteps, for example, according to the PoA Act the district collector is obligated to do a spot-visit, but that does not happen in most of the cases,â€ť he further adds. â€śThreats to the family at the FIR stage, improper filing of the FIR, biased investigations, there are a hoard of problems.â€ť
The report demands that the pending cases be closed expediently and that the accused be rightfully convicted in the next six months. It also says that by law, families of victims are entitled to monetary benefits, government jobs and agricultural land, but in most cases only the monetary benefits reach the families.