Three Day TOT on Atrocity Act with Amendments

This training for Trainers  was organised by HDRC and HRLN as part of the DHRD project in collaboration with PEC. It was  a three day training on the Atrocity Act and the Amendment to Atrocity Act with various expert resource persons.

Day 1

On the first day, the session that Pritaben (PEC) and Advocate Govindbhai (HRLN) took was on Victim’s Rights. The aim of the three day training was to give participants an overview of the Act  and to cover the different sections of the Atrocity Act. 

They looked at Victim’s Rights and the changes in the new law, particularly Section 15A of the Atrocity Act. It’s the strongest legislation to date in our opinion for victims in any statute on paper. They went through the rights victims have for protection, access to Justice, access to information and the right to participate in the trial

Both the State and the Court have the responsibility to ensure that there is access to justice for survivors particularly to ensure a fair and speedy  trial . They was a discussion in the context of the Una Case – where all three organisations are collaborating to secure justice. There had been no progress in the case for almost three years and effective collaboration led to an application for day to day trial in Una court which was granted by the trial court judge – who ordered that there should be day to day trial in Verawal court from 29th July onwards.

The resource persons discussed the right to information that survivors have in atrocity cases, particularly, the right to have a copy of FIR free of cost and the right to have a copy of the charge sheet free of cost.

We also discussed the right of the victim to receive advance notice in respect of all hearings including bail, discharge, parole, etc. We emphasized that this was the first time that an Act was giving victims the right to apply to the trial court judge to produce documents, summon witnesses and examine witnesses present at court.

We discussed the fact that many trial courts are not aware of these provisions and Govindbhai shared how they have to fight to secure these rights in Atrocity cases at present.  It was discussed that we have to apply to secure these rights and make progress step by step. Govindbhai shared a format as to how victims and their advocates can apply to the court to ensure that they have received various benefits granted to survivors under the Act.

There was a second session on compensation where we basically shared the provisions of compensation in atrocity cases and the same are to be translated in Gujarati so that participants get a copy in Gujarati on compensation. Pritaben shared that in her experience so far, the provisions under compensation act were being followed and people were receiving their compensation according to the provisions on time. She also shared her experience of trying to ensure that the general victim compensation scheme under section 357A which is not being implemented so rigourously.

On the first day, the participants also got to know about the overview of the Act from Vasudevbhai and also about the particular section regarding verbal abuse which is the most common atrocity case filed in our society – Pratikbhai dealt with this issue. There was a very interesting session on manual scavenging act and its implementation. Jigneshbhai and Purshottambhai were in it and we learnt that there are times when this act is not being implemented because the State is not putting the relevant resources i.e it is not buying all the safety gear that anybody who has to go and fix the underground pipe should have. They are putting these people at risk of injury and death. 

There was  also a discussion regarding how the State is not investing in all the machinery required so as to ensure that human beings do not have to do this work. Post 2015, The Act of Manual Scavenging by Dalits and tribes is also an atrocity. The relevant section of the atrocity act section 3(1)(J) holds an employer, the authority responsible and anybody else who permits Dalits and tribal community members to carry out an act forbidden by the manual scavenging act 2013. The link between manual scavenging act and the atrocity act was made because it was mainly the sub-caste of Dalits Valmiki members who carry out such work. Purshottambhai has also filed a PIL in the High Court and asked the government what it is doing in the Act. He said an order has been made by the HC to ask the State what it is doing about implementing the act at various levels. Also in these proceedings, an order has been made that if there is manual scavenging done by anyone including Dalits and Tribals and it is been done for the municipal authority, it would be the officers of the municipal authority, who would be responsible first. So, in the case of atrocity, like the Dahod case, it is not just the contractors who are responsible if an atrocity case is filed or even act of an atrocity is carried out. It would also be the municipal authority who contacted the contractor. Prita suggested that the HC order regarding liability of the municipal authority in the case be uploaded on the DHRD website so that people are aware of the order. 

Day 2

From the recap of the day before, it was clear that the participants had got a lot out of the sessions the day before.

The audience had some questions regarding the sessions which Prita and Govindbhai had dealt with and also Vasudevbhai suggested that all of us spend some more time going into the details of the compensation scheme for atrocity victims and the general scheme for victims of crime. As per the circular, victims of rape and atrocity would be entitled to get compensation for both rape and atrocity. Also, under the general victim scheme, a victim would receive compensation for  two different heads of the scheme, if both were applicable. For example, a child who becomes pregnant because of rape would receive the compensation of 3 lakhs for the pregnancy and 4 lakhs for the rape – so a minimum of 7 lakhs is to be given under the circular. It was suggested that the circular should be translated in Gujarati. Prita shared that the duty to provide the FIR is with the police and in fact, there is a discretion for the compensation to be granted on an interim basis where required. The circular states that this can be done by the district legal services Authority suo moto without even the victim applying for compensation. Otherwise, there is a format for making the application in English but not in Gujarati at present. 

Day 3

The very interesting morning session on gender and atrocity was conducted by Manjula Pradeep and  Preetiben Vaghela. Initially, the various participants shared the different experiences of atrocity they had faced as women. It was a privilege to listen to their experiences ranging from direct violence to sexual harassment and harassment as a member of the Dalit community in various forms. It was clear that their struggle was a long and lonely one at timesIt was clear that there were very strong Dalit women in the room who have faced these struggles. Manjulaben shared how Dalit women face other discriminations apart from caste – they face gender discrimination and all Dalit women do not face the same discrimination. There is a caste structure within the caste and Valmiki women were at the bottom of the structure and thus, the ones who face the most discrimination. The discriminatory practices are also affected by class, education level and access to work. Preetiben dealt with the atrocity provisions that are gender specific. She dealt with the provision of the witch hunting or dayan prathawhere women are declared witches and harassed and socially and economically boycotted from the village. Usually, the base purpose is to secure or capture their land.  She also dealt with sexual harassment and rape provision and various other provisions which are mainly effected by women. At that point, Prita also chipped in with the definition of rape since there have been changes on that under the Criminal Amendment Act 2013. Preeti had talked about consent so she had clarified on the consent as well in the General Law and clarified what constitutes as rape – it is not just penile penetration but any penetration by mouth, anal or vagina is constituted as rape because the underlying principle is violation of dignity of a woman. Prita also discussed the complexity of POCSO cases in which the relationship in the context of romantic relationships b/w young adolescents. Prita made the point of adolescent sexuality being criminalised by parents and society by young adolescents and also  that at times that consent of children is difficult because of the unequal power structure.

Prita Jha and Vasudevbhai took a session on Social and Economic boycott which is an offence under the Atrocity Act now. Her definition as contained in the act which basically requires one to refuse to do business/provide contractual services or stop any kind of relations which would be there in the ordinary course of events. Prita shared the experience of the 2002 cases where there were social and economic boycotts where Muslim citizens were asked to take back criminal cases they had filed in respect of the looting and burning of their homes. She recalled one particular incident in the village where there was a sign inside the temple saying that anybody who traded with the Muslim community would be fined and people were asked not to buy vegetables from Muslim vendors and not use their autos etc. In the village context, this is a reality in any given power structure. We also know of socio economic boycott of women who are harassed and single and widowed women are declared witches. The hidden agenda is to capture the land of these women. She also shared the details of the Banaskantha case where the first FIR of social economic boycott known to us, and again it’s a case where a Dalit woman got some land and when she tried to obtain it, a social and economic boycott was declared against her and people were told that they would be fined if they dealt with her. The session also dealt with the difficulties of proving social economic boycott. Often, when the declaration of social economic boycott is made, it’s made in front of the majority and people are afraid to talk about it because they fear that they would also be made a target of the boycott. She dealt with how serious this issue is because vulnerable people who are dependent on one community are then brought to their knees because then, they cannot get work and cannot buy daily necessities to live.

In the Banaskantha case, the lady has a cow and bulls and used to sell their milk to the local dairy mandl ibut after the boycott, she could no longer sell the milk and couldn’t obtain the cash. She also could not get access to water and had to obtain it privately and she said that she could not buy any goods in the shops. One of the things that we suggested to her was if she could provide evidence regarding this. Vasudevbhai shared the journey of the complaint and the very strong work that Dayabhai and Vasudevbhai had done in this case to try and get the authorities to act . When PEC went to Banaskantha, the accused had not been arrested and we talked to the SP about this who, in turn, was surprised because he thought that they had already been arrested. He contacted the DySP to enquire further and they said that they were investigating it further. The SP replied as to what investigation was required and to carry out the arrest immediately. Another issue that was raised by a female participant was that a lady sarpanch was harassed and Prita pointed out that there was a provision in the Atrocity Act to deal with it and how it was very important for us to know the various provisions of the act. There are 47 offences under Section 3(1) and 3(2) of the Atrocities Act. Jha also  discussed that the minimum punishment for socio economic boycott – if found guilty – is 6 months and the maximum is 5 years. She also discussed that apart from the FIR, there was a duty on the State to stop the social and economic boycott on the survivor and in this case, when we spoke to the Banaskantha SP, he in front of us spoke to the DySP to stop the socio and economic boycott and make sure it was lifted. If it was not, they had to register a second offence against the accused. 

Other sessions on the third day included as session on labour and atrocity conducted by Ashokbhai Samrat and Hitendrabhai.

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