Law implementation remains weak in cases of caste-based discriminationA report says police are reluctant to register cases. And even if cases get registered, they lack evidence to back up the claims, which results in low conviction rate.
Among 45 cases related to caste-based discrimination and untouchability lodged at the district courts in the fiscal year 2018-19, the accused were convicted in only 21 cases. The accused in only three of the 17 cases handled by the High Court got convicted while the Supreme Court overturned the only case filed to it in the same fiscal year.
Records at the Office of the Attorney General show while the success rate for other cases in courts stands at 80 percent on an average, it is hardly 55 percent for caste-based disrimination and untouchability.
The Act on Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability enforced in 2011 criminalises that form of discrimination and untouchability with provisions of imprisonment for up to three years. However, its implementation remains weak.
Activists advocating against discrimination and untouchability say a large number of such cases don’t reach courts as there is a tendency to settle the incidents at the community level while the police refuse to register complaints.
“I can say hardly around 20 percent of such incidents reach the court,” Shyam Bishwakarma, an advocate, told Post. “And, the accused in around half of the cases are acquitted, which is even more disappointing.”
A report presented at the Parliamentary Committee on Law and Justice on Wednesday about the status of the implementation of the Act blames the weakness in the investigation and prosecution for the low conviction rate. The report says that first the police are reluctant in filing the cases and even when the cases are filed they are very weak without needed evidence to establish, which results in the low conviction rate.
Bishwakarma, who prepared the report together with advocate Raju Chapagain, chair of the Constitutional Lawyers’ Forum, said the flaws in the Act too have partially hampered its effective implementation. He said the penalty doesn’t fit the crime as the maximum imprisonment is hardly three years while the Act also doesn’t provide legal protection for the victims and witnesses.
“The accused don’t need to be in judicial custody as the Criminal Code makes judicial custody mandatory only in cases that have imprisonment for three or more years,” he said. “It is, therefore, necessary to increase the penalty.”
The lawyers also find a problem in the statute of limitation which is just three months. They say as the perpetrators in most of the cases have a high social status, the victims of the discrimination and untouchability don’t, in most of the case, file the cases immediately. They say the statute of limitation must be one year.
Chapagain said there should be a penalty for the police officials who refuse to register the cases and those who settle such cases at the community level. “The government declared the country as untouchability-free but it has failed to create an environment to ensure that the declaration prevails,” he told the Post. The government in 2006 declared Nepal as an untouchability-free nation and criminalised the discriminatory practice.
He says the fact that the government took six years since the Act was promulgated to prepare its regulation shows its reluctance towards its effective implementation. The regulation is a must for the implementation of the Act. The House committee has endorsed the report and has decided to direct the respective government entities to act for necessary revisions in the law.
Taking part in the deliberation on the report in the parliamentary committee, Minister for Law and Justice Lilanath Shrestha said lack of information about the Act is a reason behind its weak implementation.
“The three tiers of the government can work together for its effective implementation,” he told the meeting. “I believe the law alone is inadequate to end the crime. We need to focus on awareness. The government is ready to incorporate it in textbooks as well.”