Managing perceptions


From the very beginning it was clear that the entire issue had less to do with the correctness of the Supreme Court judgment and more to do with the way it was interpreted, and sometimes deliberately misinterpreted. The judgment had not altered or read down any of the key provisions of the Act. The Court was at pains to emphasise that it was only seeking to protect the innocent against arbitrary arrest and that there should be no denial of relief and compensation to SCs and STs, whose rights should be protected. While no one can object to procedural safeguards against false accusations, it is possible that the Court’s concerns about what it saw as misuse of the Act resulted in the perception that it was introducing norms to prevent quick action on complaints. It is arguably much more likely that such perceptions consolidate at a time when the conviction rate under the Act is dismally low and atrocities against Dalits are a disturbing reality. It is vital that any law that is founded on punishing social ostracisation maintains a fine balance between protecting the rights of the individual to a fair trial and enforcing not only the letter but also the spirit of a legislation that was introduced to protect the dignity of the disadvantaged, who have suffered unspeakably as a result of the abhorrent practice of social discrimination.


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