'The court came to a conclusion using one person's case... Based on that one case, the term "rampant misuse" was used as if it is a generalisation.'
'If one in 10 cases turns out to be false, is it possible to call the Act a charter for blackmail or charter for personal vengeance?'
'Is there any Act either in India or anywhere in the world where there are no false cases?'
IMAGE: Police break up protests by Dalits in Varanasi during the Bharat Bandh, April 2, 2018. Photograph: PTI Photo.
Eighty-five-year-old former IAS officer P S Krishnan is more than just a retired bureaucrat. He is an activist working relentlessly for the upliftment of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
As a secretary to the Government of India, Mr Krishnan was instrumental in the formulation and initialisation of the special component plan for scheduled castes in 1978.
The Supreme Court directive to prevent 'rampant misuse' of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act disappointed him immensely.
"The unhappiness, despair, resentment, anger and frustration among the scheduled castes is a reality. If anybody ignores it, it will be like Indira Gandhi not knowing the anger of the people towards the Emergency. The same mistake is being committed by those who are governing today," Krishnan, below, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
Did the Supreme Court directive to prevent, in the court's words, 'rampant misuse' of the SC/ST Act shock you?
Yes, it came as a shock.
The court came to a conclusion using one person's case.
There was an allegation that he was refused anticipatory bail by the high court on account of Section 18 of the SC/ST Act. The Supreme Court found that what he did was not an offence.
I have no comment on the finding of an individual case. Based on that one case, the term 'rampant misuse' was used as if it is a generalisation.
If you want to make a general examination of the Act and its implementation, I believe that according to the rule of the law and basic principle of jurisprudence, you should listen to the other side also.
Who is the other party? Not only the government of Maharashtra, not only the Government of India to whom he gave notice, but there are more than 21% of the people belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the country.
They form around 30 crores (300 million) and these people should have been heard.
Also, those organisations who are familiar with the working of this Act or a person called P S Krishnan who was a non-political author of this amendment. Then, they would have got a holistic picture to pass an appropriate judgment.
The Supreme Court quoting high court judgments and statistics from the National Crime Research Bureau said that the Act had become a 'charter for exploitation and oppression', and an 'instrument for blackmail or to wreak personal vengeance'. Do you agree with this?
Certainly not. That is why I said they would have got a full picture if they had listened to the views of the organisations working for the SCs and STs and implementation of the Act and atrocities against these people.
A person like me had the opportunity to work with them. I would say, it is not an instrument of blackmail.
There may be a few cases and the statistics they gave was that 5,000 cases turned out to be false cases according to the police record.
It appears one in 10 cases was found to be false.
If one in 10 cases turns out to be false, is it possible to call the Act a charter for blackmail or charter for personal vengeance?
Is there any Act either in India or anywhere in the world where there are no false cases?
I would further say, what is shown as false is not really false.
What happens is, in some cases, not all from the most vulnerable community in every village and every state, go to the police when they face humiliation and atrocities on a daily basis.
They cannot afford to go to the police for all this as they are dependent on the landlords for daily wages in the village and he belongs to a particular dominant caste.
The poor man from the dominant caste will also support the rich man of his caste than a poor man from the Dalit caste.
This is the misfortune of the caste system. Since they cannot antagonise those who give them daily wages, they prefer to remain silent in many cases.
These poor people are also mortally afraid of the police station because you will find that the police people at the lower level belong to the dominant caste in the village.
So, they are persuaded, cajoled and intimidated to withdraw the cases. If they don't compromise, there is widespread boycott of the Dalits.
Even B R Ambedkar said before the Simon Commission in 1928 that there was wide prevalence of the crippling social boycott of the scheduled castes. This is worse than a massacre.
If you tell a scheduled caste labourer not to come for work tomorrow, it means he cannot have the next meal.
So, the social boycott and economic boycott continues...
The Supreme Court, without knowing all these things, without getting an opportunity for all these things to come before them, and with limited information and not full information, came out with those directives.
There was no opportunity to bring before the court what exactly was happening to the most vulnerable people in our society.
It was observed that the Act perpetuates casteism.
Casteism is not a new phenomenon. It did not start with this Act. It actually started hundreds of years ago.
What is casteism? Giving the monopoly of positions of status, like land-holding, land owning, administrative posts, religion-related posts, trading posts...
All these are monopolised by the limited members of certain castes. Not all people from those castes monopolise, of course.
Then, the burden of labour is imposed on other castes. And the worst sufferers were the untouchables who had no contact with the rest of society. They had to suffer in isolation.
The caste system is a jail for the Dalits and untouchability is like putting some people in isolation cells.
This unequal distribution of advantages and burdens is what makes casteism.
Unless you break it, casteism will not go.
The Supreme Court is justified in frowning upon casteism, but it did not have the information that casteism is rooted not merely in the minds, but in the traditional and modern economy.
You find casteism even in the corporate sector. Casteism has to be eliminated.
How can we eliminate something that is so rooted in the psyche of the Indian people and Indian society?
I have explained the roadmap to eliminate it in many papers and articles.
The first is, eliminate the dichotomy between landholding and landless labour.
How can we do this? Give land to every landless rural scheduled caste family; viable agricultural land with minor irrigation.
There is plenty of land with the government. Who said that? Not me.
The governors committee appointed by the first Dalit President of India, K R Narayanan, and headed by a distinguished retired IAS officer, the then governor of Maharashtra, Dr P C Alexander, said so.
The committee examined government records and found that the total land available with the government is enough to distribute among all the scheduled castes in the country.
There is enough land to distribute to the landless who do not belong to the scheduled castes also.
If you do this, the basis of the vulnerability of the scheduled castes will first disappear.
They can assert against caste-based restrictions and discrimination as they need not depend on somebody else for the next meal.
When you give them land with irrigation, they can reap three crops and automatically they become liberated.
Above all this, India is shamed internationally for the high rate of neo-natal mortality, infant mortality, child mortality, mother mortality even compared to other South Asian countries and sub Saharan African countries.
Why is it so low? Because the lives of the SCs and STs are so miserable.
Once they have enough food, all the malnutrition and anaemia disappears, the mother's health improves, child mortality improves and India's figures go up and with that, India's dignity also goes up.
When the landless gets land with water, and gets three crops and works throughout the year, he can also keep one or two buffalos, chicken, and cows and the children get protein.
He can send them to school. And, this way, the unemployment rate comes down.
This is a magic tablet which both Prime Minister Narendra D Modi and Sonia Gandhi should jump at.
I have told them to do this, but they are not doing (it). I have sent all this to the previous government, the present government and to all the chief ministers.
Why is there no political will to implement this?
Political will depends on the will of the political leaders.
How many of our political leaders are sufferers of untouchability and labour hood?
Take all our prime ministers. How many of them have suffered untouchability? How many of them were agricultural labourers? So, they don't know the pain.
If you don't know the pain, you must have a moral sensibility. You should have patriotism. You should feel my country should be at the top; not by my army conquering other nations but when my people are not suffering.
That is called burning patriotism.
I have given adult education to leaders through my papers and personal discussion. I have met many of them, given my papers with all humility though I am older than all of them, but they have not done it.
The Supreme Court which is anxious about casteism, which I agree with, should instruct all the chief ministers and the prime minister to do this. It should say that they were going to monitor it.
We have seen protests by Dalits in many parts of the country. Is it the culmination of many years of suppression and anger?
Anger and resentment were building in the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes for some time.
In the past, there were no educated people among them, but today, there are some educated youngsters.
So, they are organised and are able to articulate better than in the past.
Scheduled castes have always been unhappy. That was why a large number of scheduled castes in south India converted to Christianity and Islam.
99% of the Christians in Andhra Pradesh, more than 2/3rds in Kerala, more than 3/4ths in Tamil Nadu are converts.
Do you think the protests and violence will continue till the resentment goes away?
They won't agitate every day. Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have the least capacity to agitate every day. They cannot afford to. But they are unhappy.
Why are they unhappy?
They have no protection of life, they do not have right to dignity, their children do not have the right to take water from the same place in school, their children cannot sit in the front row in class, there are so many such things.
Are these agitations political?
No political party has the capacity to organise an agitation like this.
This was essentially a spontaneous outburst of long periods of suffering and frustration triggered by recent incidents. Calling it provoked by some political party is trivialising the issue.
The unhappiness, despair, resentment, anger and frustration among the scheduled castes is a reality.
If anybody ignores it, it will be like Indira Gandhi not knowing the anger of the people towards the Emergency.
When it happened, she had no control over it. The same mistake is being committed by those who are governing today.
What I am worried about is if party after party is found incapable of and not anticipating the genuine reactions of its people, what will happen to this poor country?
Cry, my beloved country!