Andrea writes from Triratna’s Karuna Trust with news of a ground-breaking legal victory won by one of Karuna’s Indian project partners, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN). The case was the first time perpetrators of a caste atrocity - still common in India - have been brought to justice by receiving life imprisonment under the Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989). She says -
“The Mirchpur Dalit atrocity case concerns a Dalit father and daughter, 70 year old Tara Chand and his disabled daughter Suman, both burnt alive when arsonists from the dominant ‘Jat’ community looted the houses of people from the Dalit ‘Balmiki’ community in an act of violence originating in an argument over a dog. The case was taken up by India’s HRLN who Karuna supported to pursue the case.
And in an unprecedented legal milestone, late last year the verdict of the Supreme Court of India convicted 15 of the 98 accused, three of whom now face life imprisonment. A high number of other accused persons were acquitted on account of lack of evidence, due to systematic failures of the Haryana police.
Karuna welcomes this verdict and values the strength, skill and dedication with which the Balmiki community, our partner Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), and other grassroots activists have pursued this case. It is hoped that the breakthrough in relation to the use of the Prevention of Atrocities Act will serve as a precedent in future cases of violent atrocities against Dalits. The relatively short length of this trial of 6 months is unique as the Indian legal system is riddled with years-long delays which add greatly to the burden of suffering of Dalits and to a loss of faith in legal justice. Although this verdict is highly significant, HRLN are expecting a protracted legal battle ahead as the convicted people appeal the sentences they have received. In the meantime HRLN are in the process of filing cases for a secure and comprehensive rehabilitation package for the victim community, including the right to food, secure accommodation and education for those affected.
Recent grants by Karuna have helped to create four much needed new Dalit Rights Networks in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar. In Bihar in particular, long recognised as the most lawless state in India, the presence of the new centre is having a profound effect.
The embedded video shows Colin Gonsalves of HRLN talking about the significance of the verdict in the Mirchpur Dalit atrocity case. If it is not visible you can access it directly at vimeo.com/35261067”.
Would you like to raise funds to support Karuna’s work? Check their Appeals website www.appeals.karuna.org and book on one now! Karuna have built up a network of over 7,000 regular donors all across the UK using volunteer door-knocking appeal teams; the £1.5m they fundraise every year allows them to support this and many other initiatives - click to see an interactive map of Karuna projects and project partners in India.