“Give life to the constitutional ideals”: How to combat oppression and cruelty faced tribes – B R Ambedkar Memorial Lecture by Supreme Court Judge

Tribals are subject to oppression and cruelty even after independence and still picked up by the investigating officers to cover up shoddy investigations, Supreme Court Judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said on Monday.

Justice Chandrachud was speaking at the 13th B R Ambedkar Memorial Lecture on the topic of ‘Conceptualising Marginalisation: Agency, Assertion & Personhood’ by the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, (IIDS) Delhi and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, South Asia.

The top court judge said even if a discriminatory law is held unconstitutional by the courts, or is repealed by parliament, the discriminatory behavioural pattern is not immediately overturned.

“Constitutional and legal mandates are not sufficient to protect the rights of the marginalised group including Dalit and tribals,” he said.

The British Raj enacted the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 through which a tribe, gang, or class of persons addicted to the systemic commission of offences were notified. The Criminal Tribes Act was later repealed in 1949 once our Constitution was enacted, and the tribes were ‘de-notified’.”

“However, even after nearly seventy-three years since the tribes were de-notified, the members of the tribes are still subject to oppression and cruelty. Members of the de-notified tribes are still picked up by the investigating officers to cover up shoddy investigations,” Justice Chandrachud said.

Referring to a top court judgement, he said, “This Court in Ankush Maruti v. the State of Maharashtra allowed a review petition filed against the conviction of six accused persons on rape and murder charges.”

“The decision judicially recognised that the members of the nomadic tribes belonging to the lower strata of the society are regularly harassed by investigating agencies by using the forces of criminal law,” Justice Chandrachud said.

The apex court judge said that the Constitution mandates redistribution of material resources to further the constitutional ideal of substantive equality. […]

“However, without the fulfilment of the principle of recognition, the ideals of both formal and substantive equality would not be sufficient to address concerns of freedom. It is only through recognition that our existence as social beings is generated,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud said humiliation is perpetuated by the institutions and the society.

The members of the marginalised communities can also be institutionally humiliated not merely by using the tool of law but also by establishments that further a conducive environment for discrimination and humiliation to be perpetuated. Even if a discriminatory law is held unconstitutional by the Courts, or is repealed by the parliament, the discriminatory behavioural pattern is not immediately overturned,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud said that treating every person as an individual, irrespective of their differences and membership of multiple groups would not be sufficient to gain personhood (status of being a person).

“Hence, members of the marginalised communities would be able to gain complete personhood only by assertion and recognition of their group identities. The international framework and the Indian Constitution facilitate this approach, of identifying an individual as a member of the group to remedy marginalisation.”

“What I mean is that the only way for the members of the marginalised communities to achieve personhood is through social mobilisation as a collective against discrimination. Such mobilisation should not be considered as ‘politics of identity but as a necessary means for redressing historical discrimination,” he said. […]

Justice Chandrachud said combating something as prevalent and deep-rooted as marginalisation is no easy task, and does not have solutions.

“The only recourse available to us is to faithfully abide by and give life to the constitutional ideals which Dr Ambedkar helped formulate, and use those to bring transformative change in the minds and perceptions of the society,” he said.

Source: ‘Members of De-Notified Tribes Picked Up to Cover Up Shoddy Investigations’: Justice Chandrachud, PTI (The Wire, 7 December 2021)
URL: https://thewire.in/rights/members-of-de-notified-tribes-picked-up-to-cover-up-shoddy-investigations-justice-chandrachud
Date Visited: 8 December 2021

It’s a long road to freedom!

Stan Swamy (sociologist and activist for Adivasi rights) in “I am Not a Silent Spectator: Why Truth has become so bitter, Dissent so intolerable, Justice so out of reach” | Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, 2021 | Accountability >>

Sardar Patel signing the Constitution
Photo: The Better India >>
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) was independent India’s first Minister of Law and Justice, and the chief architect of the Constitution of India. – Wikipedia

“The Indian constitution had to empower the state to enter into the realm of Indian society and transform it by eradicating deeply embedded economic, political and social hierarchies.” – “The Foreign and the Indigenous in the Indian Constitution: Constitution Day talk” by Arun Thiruvengadam (Centre for Law and Policy Research, Bangalore, 2 December 2015)

“Tribals are subject to oppression and cruelty even after independence and still picked up by the investigating officers to cover up shoddy investigations. […] The only recourse available to us is to faithfully abide by and give life to the constitutional ideals which Dr Ambedkar helped formulate, and use those to bring transformative change in the minds and perceptions of the society.” – Supreme Court Judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud (The Wire, 7 December 2021)

“The constitution would outlaw all forms of discrimination, abolish untouchability and guarantee the right to freedom of religion. It also included a system of reservations or affirmative action for Dalits and India’s indigenous peoples, the Adivasis.” – Listen to “How an ‘untouchable’ inspired a force of resistance against inequality in India” on CBC Radio Ideas (6 October 2020) | Guests in this episode:
Ananya Vajpeyi is a scholar and a writer at New Delhi’s Center for the Study of Developing Societies. She is the author of The Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India.
Anupama Rao is a historical anthropologist at Barnard College. She is the author of The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India.
Ramachandra Guha is a historian based in southern India, and author and editor of many books including Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World, 1914-1948 and Makers of Modern India.
Suraj Yengde is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School as well as a fellow with Harvard University’s Department of African and African-American Studies. He is the author of Caste Matters and co-editor of The Radical in Ambedkar: Critical Reflections. 

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