It is a strange coincidence that the Andhra Pradesh government has appointed a Cabinet subcommittee to draw up an "implementable action plan" on the basis of one-man commission's recommendations to eradicate untouchability and prevent atrocities on Dalits and Girijans, even as recent incidents of brutalities perpetrated on the weaker sections in the State were highlighted by delegates at the ongoing UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban.
The case of Namala Balaswamy, who was burnt to death at Kalvakole village in Mahbubnagar district for daring to mobilise Dalits, had shocked the collective conscience of the Durban delegates, including Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who loves to call himself progressive, reformist, modernist and technology-savvy, might be roundly embarrassed by the fact that atrocities on the weaker sections in his home State could be the subject-matter of international attention.
But, during the six years of his rule so far, Naidu has done very little to save Dalits and Girijans from recurring atrocities on them. Following an outcry over the spurt in such incidents, Naidu appointed Justice K Punnaiah, retired judge of the AP High Court, as the single-man commission to inquire into the issues of caste discrimination, untouchability and atrocities against the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and to suggest measures to eradicate these evils.
After going about his task in a meticulous way for over two years, Justice Punnaiah submitted his report last month, listing out as many as 42 recommendations. The State Cabinet could have straightaway accepted the recommendations and asked the administration to initiate necessary steps for their implementation but, true to his style of functioning, Naidu has chosen to appoint a subcommittee to vet the recommendations.
However, before the Cabinet sub-panel takes up the task, an officials' committee will scrutinise the commission report and recommendations and report to the subcommittee. All this means dilatory tactics so that the so-called "implementable action plan" gets ready only after considerable time.
The commission has found widespread prevalence of practice of untouchability and a spurt in the incidence of atrocities against SCs and STs. In the backward tracts of highly-developed coastal districts such as East and West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur, the incidence of untouchability is high. The problem of discrimination persists in almost every village in one form or the other. Dalits are not allowed to draw water from common borewells or tanks and they are denied entry into temples. Dalit elders are roughed up if they do not stand up to show respect when upper caste persons pass through the area.
Dalit youth are prohibited from riding bicycles through the areas inhabited by upper castes. At village tea-shops, Dalits are made to squat separately and drink water or tea through separate tumblers kept for them. Among other things, the commission has found instances of inter-caste couples living in fear due to economic blockade and social boycott imposed by upper castes.
In tribal tracts, the incidence of sexual crimes against Girijan girls is notoriously high. The perpetrators hail from upper castes in many cases. Sexual exploitation of Girijan women goes on unabated. Harassment and killings of Dalits and Girijans are reported even from areas dominated by Naxalites.
The SCs/STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Protection of Civil Rights Act have turned out to be toothless legislations to bring the culprits to book. No wonder, Andhra Pradesh retains notoriety due to continuing atrocities on Dalits and Girijans. There have been too many incidents in recent past, coinciding mainly with the elections to mandal and zilla parishads in July and gram panchayats in August this year. Director-General of Police H J Dora has sought to dismiss these incidents as of little consequence.
The cases of assaults on Dalits in Chittoor, Mahbubnagar and Nalgonda districts have been entrusted to the CID, in the wake of complaints against local police officials about their unhelpful attitude even to register cases against the perpetrators!