For more than two months now, the state of Manipur has become a battleground for the Meitei and Kuki tribal communities. This conflict has resulted in complete segregation of the state, claiming more than 130 lives and displacing more than 60,000 people.
In a horrific case of tribal violence, said to have taken place on May 4th, two women belonging to the Kuki community were paraded naked, groped, gangraped and later murdered by men from the Meitei community. The police say they have opened a case of gang rape and arrested a man, adding that others will be held soon.
As the case unfolds, let us understand who are Scheduled Tribes, how does the law protect them from such atrocities and what are their rights under Indian law?
Who are Scheduled Tribes?
The President specifies a list of tribes or tribal communities or groups within such communities which are considered as Scheduled Tribes in the respective states. The latest list of Scheduled Tribes in India can be found here. The Kuki tribe in Manipur is part of this list. The list is specific to a particular state.
Although the Constitution does not give any criteria to qualify as a Scheduled Tribe, the criteria currently followed are :
(i) indications of primitive traits,
(ii) distinctive culture,
(iii) geographical isolation,
(iv) shyness of contact with the community at large, and
Which actions are considered atrocities against Scheduled Tribes?
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 safeguards the rights of the members of the Scheduled Tribes. It refers to any of the following crimes committed against members of Scheduled Tribes as atrocities. The punishment for these acts is imprisonment between 6 months and 5 years, along with a fine.
- Hurting or boycotting them
- Making them wear a garland of chappals, or making them walk around naked or semi-naked.
- Forcing them to do anything which is insulting to the dignity of a human being, such as making them undress, forcing them to shave their head or moustache or forcing them to paint their face.
- Insulting and humiliating them on purpose, if it is done in a place visible to the public.
- Blocking them from a public place where they have a right to go.
- Touching a woman belonging to a Scheduled Tribe sexuallywithout her consent, or sexually harassing her.
This act also provides for the establishment of Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts for the trial of such offences and to provide relief and rehabilitation to the victims.
Filing a Complaint
If a crime has been committed against you owing to your identity as member of the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes, you can approach any of these places to get immediate relief:
You can either call 100 or visit a police station to report the incident. The police officer in charge will note down your details and if needed arrive at your location to provide you immediate help. They will also file an FIR and provide you with a copy of it, free of cost.
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
The NCST has the power to investigate complaints registered for atrocities committed against the members of Scheduled Tribes. Its functions includes :
1. investigating & monitoring matters relating to safeguards guaranteed to the Scheduled Tribes.
2. inquiring into specific complaints relating to their Rights & Safeguards
3. taking steps towards their socio-economic development
4. evaluating the progress of their development in different states
Contact information for the National Commission as well as its regional offices can be found here.
National Commission for Scheduled Castes
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes is a body set up under the Constitution to investigate and monitor the interests of the Scheduled Castes. They also have the power to inquire into specific complaints in cases where members of Scheduled Castes are deprived of their rights. You can either call their toll free helpline – 1800 1800 345 or visit their website for more information.
For more information, you can read our explainer here.
Relief and Rehabilitation for Victims of Atrocities
The District Administration must provide relief and ensure rehabilitation of members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes who have been victims of atrocities and crimes mentioned under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995. The District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police have to assess the situation or damages before providing relief.
These immediate relief measures include making arrangements in cash and/or kind to victims, their family members and dependents. It should also include relief in the form of food, water, clothing, shelter, medical aid, transport facilities and any other essential items necessary for human beings. The law also provides for norms in terms of the relief amount for state governments to follow. These norms can be found in the Schedule attached to these Rules.
In cases of death, injury to persons or damage to property, either the victims or their dependents will have an additional right to claim compensation. Such relief can be provided by either the District Magistrate, Sub-divisional Magistrate or Executive Magistrate.