The elusive search for justice

The thirty year scorecard of the implementation of the SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in Tamil Nadu and experiences of human rights defenders from across the country.

மனித உரிமை மேம்பாடு மற்றும் ஆராய்ச்சி அமைப்பு (HRF) சார்பில் ‘ நீதிக்கான மாயத்தேடல்’ என்ற தலைப்பில் நடைபெற உள்ள கருத்தரங்கில் கலந்து கொள்ள தங்களை வரவேற்கிறோம்.

Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation (HRF) invites you to a webinar on “The Elusive Search For Justice”

We Want Quality Ration In PDS – All Women Federation

SCs and STs (PoA)-CVMC Meeting 2

Citizen’s Vigilance and Monitoring Committee

Online, 1030 – 1300, 27 June 2020

The meeting started with a self-introduction by new participants, and then a quick session on ‘How to use Zoom effectively and good practice’ by Revathy (Finance Coordinator, HRF). She highlighted the basic features in Zoom App like chat box, raise-hand, spotlight, etc. and when to use it.  

Participants Details

The meeting was attended by 28 participants from 27 organisations from 27 districts.

Session I: State monitoring mechanisms and officials

Edwin (Director, Programmes, HRF) spoke about ‘State monitoring mechanisms and officials’, the significance of knowing the officers under the Act and their respective roles. The main monitoring officials are the Nodal officer (Rule 9), Special Officer (Rule 10), the in-charge prosecution, the Superintendent of Police, and the judge of the special court. He also explained the composition and responsibilities of main monitoring mechanisms (the vigilance and monitoring committees) at the state (Rule 16), district (Rule 17) and sub-divisional (Rule 17A) levels. 

He gave a briefing on Rule 12 (7) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995, which includes a report of the relief and rehabilitation facilities given to the affected victims by the District Magistrate (the District Collector). The District Magistrate should forward this report to the Special Court or Exclusive Special Court. If the Special Court or Exclusive Special Court thinks the amount of relief or compensation given is not sufficient or it is not provided in due time, then they may order enhanced relief or any other kind of assistance as it deems necessary. 

After his session, the floor was opened to clarification. 

In sub-divisional vigilance and monitoring committee (SdVMC), a non-Dalit Panchayat President is a member and he is hostile towards the community. How can we handle it?

We should know the eligibility criteria for him being appointed in the SdVMC. If he is appointed in the non-Dalit, non-Adivasi category, then he can be appointed. We should ask what his credentials were to be appointed, and in which category he was appointed. Then we can find out if he meets the criteria, and what his contributions are. Depending on such information and based on that data, we can act. 

Can the two experts from NGOs in the SdVMC be from any NGO or only the NGOs who work predominantly for the scheduled communities?

Priority should be given to the NGOs who work for the scheduled communities. But the basic eligibility criteria is to be a member of any NGO.

Who will appoint a Special Public Prosecutor? And what are the prerequisites?

As per Rule 4(1A), the State Government in consultation with the Director Prosecution or in charge of the prosecution, shall appoint a Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) to a Special Court, who posses experience not less than seven years for the purpose of conducting cases pertaining to SCs and STs community. If the victim feels unsatisfied with the government appointed SPP, he/she can appoint a lawyer on his/her behalf, having a minimum of seven years of experience as per Rule 4(5).

If the Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) is not performing his duty effectively, what can we do?

Since the SPPs are appointed after a gazette notification by the state government, we should go back to that gazette notification and check on what basis he was appointed. Then using RTI we should check how many cases he has appeared in and the conviction rate. Then we can ask the government to remove him from the service using Rule 4(3).

Session II: RTI on relief and rehabilitation

Tamilarasi – In our previous RTI letter, we asked questions related to the rights of victims and witnesses (Rule 4(4)(b)) in each district. This week, we will ask about the relief and rehabilitation report (Rule 12(7)).

For which district we must ask questions and who will give the questions?

We shall provide you with the district name and its full address. And we will also provide you with the RTI questions that need to be asked.

The ‘District Magistrate’ in the ‘To Address’, refers to whom?

The District Magistrate is also called as the District Collector. So we put the District Collector’s address on it. Indirectly, we are reminding them of their roles and responsibilities as prescribed in the POA Act.

In this CVMC letter pad, can we ask any other questions?

On this letterhead, in each RTI request, we ask a limited number of RTI questions with the relevant POA sections and rules. If we ask more questions, they might answer one or two questions as per their convenience and leave the rest unanswered. If you want to ask other questions you please send us the draft. We will edit it with appropriate information and send it to you. We will support you in drafting the letter.

Session III: Orientation for new members of CVMC Meeting

It was a separate meeting for the first-time attendees and gave them an overview of the last week’s meeting held on 20th June 2020.

Tamilarasi gave a quick introduction on the purpose of filing RTI applications and how to monitor the officials effectively. Formerly, we worked on issue-basis; i.e. we started our work only when an atrocity took place. Now, we will work towards preventing the atrocity from happening by monitoring the monitors. In addition, she explained about the Citizen’s Vigilance and Monitoring Committee (CVMC), its composition and duties laid down. She also briefed about a draft RTI letter and where to add the address, stamp and other details.

Will you give us the RTI letter as well as the questions?

Yes. We will give you the RTI letter in both Word and PDF formats along with a check-list. You need to download the letter, fill in the necessary details in the yellow-coloured spaces and send it to the concerned office with an acknowledgement card. Before sending, please refer to the check-list and ensure that all information is given. Once the letter is sent, you need to take a photo of the acknowledgement card and RTI letter and forward it to us in WhatsApp ‘POA Core Group’.

If we have already constituted a Citizen’s Vigilance and Monitoring Committee do we need to create a separate CVMC for this initiative?

If your district has already constituted a CVMC, you can go ahead with that. Then there is no need to create a separate CVMC. The RTI letters can be filed using the letterhead with their names.

For a district, only one person should send RTI letters or we can ask other activists to send RTI letters on behalf of us like in Taluk-wise?

There should be only one person sending RTI letters. Even if we ask other activists to do so, we will get the same information only. So it’s not useful.

Can Adivasis be members of the Citizen’s Vigilance and Monitoring Committee (CVMC)?

Yes, of course. CVMC members are all those invested in social justice and human rights.

We will discuss in a separate session on setting up a CVMC, eligibility criteria to become a member, president, secretary, etc. 

This session was concluded by Edwin and Tamilarasi thanking the new members for their participation.

SCs and STs (PoA)-CVMC Meeting 1

Citizens’ Vigilance and Monitoring Committee Meeting

Online, 1100-1300, 20 June 2020

Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation (HRF) conducted its first Citizens’ Vigilance and Monitoring Committee (CVMC) meeting on 20th June 2020 via Zoom Video App. Post the training for Dalit and Adivasi Human Rights Defenders (DAHRDs) on how to  monitor the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and Rules 1995 (POA) held at Ennore and Kothagiri, this meeting was to quickly recap the main objectives, followed by taking the monitoring process to the next level.

The meeting began with a formal introduction by the participants and the speakers. Chitra (Senior Coordinator, HRF) warmly welcomed all participants despite the serious Covid-19 pandemic situation and gave them an overview of the meeting. 

The meeting was attended by 24 individuals from 23 organisations from 21 districts and 1 resource person.

Nandagopal (Consultant, HRF) talked about the ‘Importance of Monitoring the State Monitoring Mechanisms’. He detailed the present status of implementation of provisions of POA at the state and district levels. He dug deep into the monitoring mechanisms, including the duties, responsibilities, and the powers of the various officers under the Act. He also highlighted the SC/ST Protection Cell, Contingency Plan prepared by the State, etc.

Tamilarasi (Deputy Director, HRF) briefly explained how RTI could be used to monitor the implementation of the Act, and presented a draft format that could be sent by the district Citizens’ Vigilance and Monitoring Committees (CVMC). The format had some yellow-highlighted texts, where the address, contact details, etc. of each CVMC were to be added. She also explained the significance of the “To Address” at the bottom of the letter, and necessary check-lists before sending a RTI letter. It helps the sender to make sure no unfilled spaces are left in the letter. Finally she spoke about providing financial assistance for sending RTIs. 

Questions and Answers

In one district, how many RTIs need to be filed monthly?

Initially, In every district, 4 RTIs need to be filed on a monthly basis, about one a week.

Has the District Citizens’ Vigilance and Monitoring Committee been formed?

In each district, the CVMC needs to be formed. It is preferable that the members be majority women, professionals, civil servants, judges,  lawyers, bankers, and academics.

Is the RTI letter addressed to the District Collector or the Welfare Department?

The address changes based on the question we ask in the RTI. For instance, if we ask the details of NGOs encouraged and assisted financially by the government, then it is addressed to the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department. Likewise, if we ask for the number of persons arrested under the POA Act, then it is addressed to the ADGP/Director, DGP Office.

In the present case, it is addressed to the district collector, since it is his responsibility to send that particular report (required by Rule 4(a) and Rule 4(b)) that we are asking for copies. The reference number has the rule under which that particular report is mandated from the government.

Apart from the questions given in your RTI letter, can we ask additional questions?

It is totally left to the participant’s discretion. If you want to ask more questions, you can go for it, but as separate requests. It is best not to mix up too many questions so that the chances of refusal or part fulfilment are limited.

If you are using the letterhead, please contact us first. We will help in framing the request.

What questions do we ask in the RTI letter?

As per provisions of the Act, the District Collector must submit a monthly report to the Principal Secretary, Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department about the status of the cases (including what has been done and what is proposed to be done) under the POA, quarterly and half yearly review reports, performance reports, and many more. The superintendent of police has to give some reports, as also the deputy superintendent of police, the judge of the special court, the Director of the Protection Cell, and the nodal officer (principal secretary, Adi Dravidar and Tribal welfare department) 

We ask for all the reports coming under the provisions of the POA Act. In our annual citizen’s report, we will analyze the information and question the concerned authorities.

Some participants shared their views and experiences on this monitoring committee process and gave their positive feedback. The participants collectively decided to review the RTI filing process at the next CVMC meeting at 11am on Saturday, 27 June 2020. Finally, the meeting concluded with a ‘Jai Bhim’.

கோவிட் 19 மத்திய அரசின் திட்டங்கள் மற்றும் அறிவிக்கைகள்

மனித உரிமை மேம்பாடு மற்றும் ஆராய்ச்சி அமைப்பு (HRF) சார்பாக கோவிட் 19 மத்திய அரசின் திட்டங்கள் மற்றும்  அறிவிக்கைகளை தமிழாக்கம் செய்து வெளியிட்டுள்ளோம். இதனை தாங்கள் பணிபுரியும் மக்களுக்கு கொண்டு சென்று பயன்படுத்திக் கொள்ளும்படி கேட்டுக்கொள்கிறோம்.

Civil Society Coordination and Solidarity Meeting

Introduction and summary

Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation (HRF)  organised Civil Society Organisations’ Coordination & Solidarity Meeting on 22nd January 2020 at ICSA, Chennai. There were 36 participants (16 women and 20 men) from 24 organisations from 15 districts.

Edwin (Director (Programmes), HRF) gave the welcome address and elaborated on the purpose of the solidarity and coordination meeting. The organisations invited and the suggested areas of collaboration are those that HRF had joint programmes with in 2019. This attempt is to go beyond HRF centric collaborations and evolve collective joint programmes. The joint programmes are to strengthen the existing programmes, organisations, and networks. It is not to start new networks or processes. The collective planning is to make synergies possible. All need not take part in all programmes.

The key decisions taken were to jointly organise three programmes, and to set up core groups to plan and coordinate them. The three common programmes are local government day (22 April 2020), indigenous peoples’ day (9 August 2020), and women’s empowerment (6,7 November 2020). The details are given below.

Session I: Strengthening Local Government in Tamil Nadu (Main challenges, civil society  response, and collective action plan)

Sheelu Francis (Social Worker, Women’s Collective) moderated the discussion. Under challenges, the most common ones are money distribution for every vote and influencing the candidate’s mind to withdraw their candidature from the election. On the positive side, everyone welcomed the increasing trend of youngsters getting elected in this panchayat election, despite many hurdles. The way forward is to use data like village resource mapping, survey, etc. in grama sabha meetings to effectively monitor the changes/ developments in the panchayat area. Participants also noted with concern the increasing number of representatives with right wing views.

Session II: Sector-specific discussions (Main challenges, response, collective plan)

Esther Mariaselvam (Associate Director, ActionAid) facilitated the session. Due to time constraints, only women’s rights and SCs and STs (PoA) Act could be discussed. It was observed that media and TV serials are portraying women in negative roles which in turn reflects the patriarchal mindset. The way forward is to engage men volunteers in campaigns for women’s rights.

Session III Common calendar

Swarna Rajagopal (Director, Prajnya Trust) moderated the discussion on ‘Developing a common programme calendar’. The participants were asked to list out their planned activities that need to be conducted annually. She proposed that three or maximum four common actions be planned (one every quarter). After a lot of discussion, three common programmes were agreed upon.

1.   April 22nd – Panchayat Raj Day; the anniversary of the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act coming into force. This will be celebrated at the organisational level, but with district level visibility so that the coordinated strength is demonstrated. There is no collective financial impact for this programme. However, we will prepare for a collective, state level programme for 2021, for which the fund-raising plan needs to be drawn up by the core group. The joint programme will be decentralised, and not as a federation.

2.   August 9th – International indigenous peoples’ day; State convention of tribal and nomads representatives in local government (including SDGs). If any tribe does not have even a single representative in local government, then they can send other representatives. This is to ensure that all tribes are represented at this seminal event. The meeting will be in Kotagiri, with Mr Alphonse from ISLAND Trust taking the lead. Some funds will need to be raised for this programme.

3.   November 6th and 7th – Women’s Rights (including SDGs); many are already doing this. The common event can be coordinated. Men need to also be involved in this initiative. If a meeting is held earlier than the 16 days activism, then the events can be coordinated. Accordingly, this common event is clubbed with the annual SDG Watch Tamil Nadu convention, and will be held in Madurai (just after the Ekta celebrations). The remembrance of the pioneers and annual human rights lecture will also take place on the last day.  HRF will raise funds for this as has been the practice. Any extra needs to be raised collectively

The common planning meeting for 2021 will be held at or soon after the SDG Watch convention.

Session IV: Roles and responsibilities

Manoharidas (Director, ISM-WDRC) moderated the final discussion of the day. Each programme will have a core group to carry forward the collective process. First the members for the core group for each programme were identified, and they were assigned the  primary roles and responsibilities. The core group will not be responsible for raising funds this year, since it is too short to inform and it is not in anyone’s programme or budget.

Core Group Members of Panchayat Raj Day celebrations

It was decided that this will be a joint decentralised programme, but it will not be as a federation (though the federation(s) can have their own programmes). All organisations will work together in their respective districts.

1.   M.L. Doss (Independent)

2.   Dhayalan (HRDF)

3.   Karuppasamy (READ)

4.   Sakthivel (SIDO)

5.   Bimla (EKTA)

6.   Sheelu (WC)

7.   Manoharidas (ISM-WDRC)

8.   Chitra (HRF, Convenor)

Core Group Members of Indigenous Day celebrations 

1.   Alfonse Raj (ISLAND Trust, Convenor)

2.   Kumar (IPDA)

3.   Periyakaruppu (RACNIICO)

4.   Sara (Women’s Collective)

5.   Annadurai (Child Voice)

6.   Vanaraj (Manitham Trust)

7.   Mageshwari (from Annamalai’s organization)

8.   Setha Lakshmi (WDPS, Trichy)

9.   Porkodi (HRF).

10.  Manoharidas (ISM-WDRC).

Location for the meeting is at Kotagiri, The Nilgiris.

Core Group Members of Women’s Rights celebrations

1.   Bimla (Ekta, Convenor)

2.   Swarna (Pragnya) (media outreach)

3.   Tamilarasi (HRF)

4.   Sheelu (WC)

5.   Manoharidas (ISM-WDRC)

6.   Kamachi (SWTN)

7.   Vanaraj (Manitham Trust)

8.   Edwin (HRF)

The core group is responsible for planning and organizing the specific event, which includes content, agenda, schedule, materials, advocacy, etc.

The convenors will intimate the date of the core group meeting as soon as possible.

HRF will assist the core groups with the preparation of content, drafting the declaration, material, resource persons, and any other help as and when required.

District Level Training on Strengthening Local Government

Local self-government institutions (Panchayats) are the first tier of government. It is the most accessible tier of government, where socially excluded communities and women can  contest in elections and taste their first success. The local government also drafts plans, allocates budgets, and implements them for the well-being of the community.

In 2016, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly increased reservation for  women in local self-government from 33% to 50%. This legislation gives a ray of hope among women (especially Dalits and Adivasis) and ensures that no one is left behind. The elections to local self-government were due in September 2016. There were several avoidable delays, and the elections were finally conducted on 27 and 30 December in 27 of 37 districts of Tamil Nadu, following orders from the Supreme Court of India. 

In the small window when elections were announced (9 December) and campaigning concluded (23 December 2019) the Institute of Human Rights Advocacy and Research prepared a primer on the elections by collating the latest government orders and guidelines and best practices for voters, candidates, and human rights defenders. Nine district level meetings were organised to  strengthen local self-government in Tamil Nadu. 

Each programme was co-organised with a CSO from the district (see details in the table below). These three hour programmes emphasised basic voting rights and duties among voters; elector’s rights and duties; do’s and don’ts; eligibility criteria, etc. The programmes were to educate and empower the general public, especially Dalits and Adivasis. The resource team consisting of Chitra (Senior Coordinator, HRF) M.L. Dass (Senior Consultant, HRF) and Roshan Sunthar (Associate Coordinator, HRF) conducted the training programmes in eight districts from 18 to 23 December 2019. 275 participants (204 women and 71 men) attended the sessions.

Each session began with an introduction to the history and importance of local self-government. Following this, the resource team elaborated on specific areas of importance. Chitra introduced  HRF and its major functions. This was followed by M.L. Dass briefly explaining the panchayat elections. It includes three types of agents (agents for election, booth, and counting, who can be nominated by the candidate); different types of votes and its purpose (challenged vote and tender vote); and how to formally report a violation or an offence. These were illustrated with case studies.

After this, the floor was open to questions. Many participants asked questions and clarified their doubts. A few shared their experiences during elections and explained how they handled the uncertainty quickly. At the end of the training all participants acquired useful insights about the local panchayat election.

S.No.DateDistrictCo-organiser No. of Participants Welfare Trust40 (All women) Trust36 (24 women, 12 men) Charitable Trust10 (All men) Book26 (22 women, 4 men) Trust14 (2 women, 12 men) Trust45 (34 women, 11 men) (2 women, 11 men) Voice and ISIM-WDRC47 (36 women, 11 men) (All women)

District Level – Coastal Defenders Program on Coastal Community and Coastal Environment Protection

A One-Day Program on Coastal Community and Coastal Environment Protection has been conducted on 14th November 2019, at Muthupettai, Thiruvarur District. This district-level program contains multiple objectives, namely, i) Educating Fishing Women and Youth, ii) Protecting Coastal Village Ecology, Livelihood, and Economic Development and iii) Access to Government Social Security Schemes. The number of participants is 27 (25 – women, 2 – men), including dignitaries from NABARD, TN Fisheries Department, Directors of HEPSI Rural Development Trust, and many more. The government officials briefed about relevant schemes and programs to the people and clarified their doubts. It was found that due to ignorance, most of the fishers are deprived of government benefits and suffering from financial turmoil. Vijay, Director of Rural Development Trust, revealed the current status of coastal villages and inhabitants near Muthupettai, Thiruvarur District.

A session on Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), government planning and its impact on Fishers’ livelihood, Panchayat and Coastal Village People’s Participation was taken by Sakthivadivel and Chitra (Senior Coordinators, HRF) respectively. Punitha, Senior Coordinator (Trust) gave a speech on women’s status in coastal areas and their day-to-day challenges. Shockingly, women in the coastal areas have no social recognition, no savings as they continuously take loans from MSMEs, and no basic marketing strategies. Finally, Ambika, Senior Coordinator received various suggestions from the floor and concluded the program by giving the vote of thanks.

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