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Atrocities against SC/STs in J&K continue even as Central Act is in place post Article 370 abrogation

A Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) allegedly beat up a Scheduled Tribe lecturer in Bandipora in Jammu and Kashmir. The victim had to knock on the doors of the judiciary for justice as the police failed to register an FIR. Now, the local court has directed the police to register an FIR against the SDM, but this is not the story of one man.

By Raja Muzaffar Bhat
New Update

Atrocities Image courtesy: Special arrangement (representational image)

After Article 370 abrogation, around 890 central laws have been extended to Jammu & Kashmir. These include the legislations meant for protecting the rights of the disadvantaged communities like the Tribals, Dalits, traditional forest dwellers, marginal farmers, transgenders, women and children. 

From October 31, 2019, progressive laws like The Forest Rights Act (FRA), Right to Information Act (RTI), Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR Act 2013), Consumer Protection Act, SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 and many other significant legislations are applicable in J&K. 

As per the information obtained by this author from various districts of J&K last year under the Right to Information Act (RTI) - amongst the data collated - not even 1% of the population living near forests have benefited from the Forest Rights Act 2006, which became operational in Jammu and Kashmir immediately after Article 370 abrogation.

The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is also operational for the last three years, but again these are only paper laws. Non-implementation, non-execution, and a lack of awareness of these laws amongst government officers have left many aggrieved victims with no choice but to move the courts for justice. 

publive-image Bilal Ahmad Magray | Photo courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

One such case is the story of Bilal Ahmad Magray. Bilal belongs to the Scheduled Tribe (ST) community and teaches commerce at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School at Dawar Gurez in the Bandipora district. Bilal was allegedly thrashed and abused by a Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) in the border area of Gurez. 

After the incident, he filed an online complaint before the Lieutenant Governor's grievance cell on September 3 2022, against the district administration and SDM for discriminating against him and giving him an odd job during the Gurez festival, which was celebrated on September 3. Before we delve into what happened with Bilal, a little bit on the background of this case. 

Bilal's story

On September 3 this year, the Department of Tourism J&K government, along with the district administration of Bandipora, organised a cultural event in Gurez called the Gurez festival. This is an annual affair wherein lots of tourism-related and cultural activities are held to woo tourists to the valley.

Gurez Gurez festival in Jammu and Kashmir | Photo courtesy: Raja Muzaffar Bhat

According to Bilal, he was discriminated against, and a junior officer who allegedly worked closely with the SDM was assigned the task of being the overall incharge of the Gurez festival. "The Naib Tehsildar was much junior in rank to me and many others who were on duty. I felt humiliated and filed an online grievance with the Lieutenant Governor's grievance cell on the same day. I urged the Raj Bhavan to act against the SDM and District Administration. I thought this was my constitutional right. A few days later, I was brutally beaten up for having raised a grievance with the cell. The SDM sent his official to my institution, and I was summoned before the SDM of Gurez. The officer directed two of his officials to leave the room. He closed the door and thrashed me with a stick which was lying on his table. My lower limbs got injured, and he abused my tribal identity," says a visibly shaken Bilal, speaking to The Probe.

Bilal immediately went to Sub District Hospital (SDH) in Gurez, and the injuries on his body were marked and certified by the doctor. Bilal then went straight to the local Police station with a complaint against the SDM. However, he says the police refused to entertain his complaint. The matter was brought to the notice of senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Bandipora, but that didn't help either. 

"The Govt had claimed that after the abrogation of Article 370, the rights of people belonging to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections of society would be protected. But on the ground, this hasn't happened. The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is in force, and still, the police refused to register an FIR against the SDM. I went to the Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Gurez with a written application. I also went to SSP Bandipora, but I didn't get justice. I was finally forced to move an application before the court through a public interest lawyer who travelled all the way from Srinagar to Bandipora to plead my case," says Bilal. 

Judicial magistrate's order

Most people in Bilal's position would have given up the fight, but he says this was a fight to protect his self-esteem and the dignity of the tribal community he belongs to. Bilal, through his counsel, moved an application before the court.

In his order, the Judicial First Class Magistrate of Gurez said: "In the present case, prima facie, it seems that cognisable offences have been committed against the applicant but concerned SHO failed to register the FIR... SDPO Gurez is directed to register an FIR against the accused under the relevant provisions of the law in light of the instant application... and the investigation into the case shall be conducted by SDPO Gurez himself.”

While Bilal has got temporary relief from the court, the question he asks is why did he even have to knock on the doors of the judiciary to have his grievance redressed. Bilal's counsel Badrul Dujja notes that racist and classist slurs were hurled at Bilal because he filed a grievance with the grievance cell of the LG office. "The SDM told him that it is only because of his tribal background that he is even a government official. He was told otherwise he was good for nothing. It is essential to mention that after Article 370 was abrogated, all the Central laws, including the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, apply in J&K, but the ground realities are different."

The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was enacted to prevent atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes community. The law also prescribes comprehensive measures for the protection, welfare and rehabilitation of the victims of atrocities. 

Section 14 of the Act states that Special Courts have to be set up by state governments to provide for speedy trials of cases, but these courts have still not come up in J&K. While Bilal is now hopeful that he will get justice and law will take its due course, that is unfortunately not the case for many other victims of atrocities.

"I had the grit and determination to fight all the way, but how many of us can afford to do this? There is no substitute to implementation of the law, and judiciary should never be the first but only the last resort," asserts Bilal.