SC/ST Act: “Has untouchability really been abolished?”, SC reserves order in review petition
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SC/ST Act: “Has untouchability really been abolished?”, SC reserves order in review petition

Shruti Mahajan

While reserving orders in the review petition against its judgment on the SC/ST Act, the Supreme Court today asked in open court if untouchability as a practice has really been abolished.

“Untouchability was abolished in law but this is a question to everyone, do you even shake hands with manual scavengers?”, Justice Arun Mishra asked today while hearing the case concerning provisions of the SC/ST Act.

The three-judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, MR Shah, and BR Gavai was hearing the review petition filed by the Centre challenging the Supreme Court’s decision in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, when the question of deaths caused by manual scavenging was raised.

The Court came down heavily on the government, asking Attorney General for India KK Venugopal as to what exactly the government was doing as regards manual scavengers, and why it has failed to provide protective gear to such workers.

“In no other country will you see a person standing in a gas chamber (manhole) without any masks. Why can’t you provide them masks and protective gear?”, Justice Mishra asked the AG.

Pressing on the point that caste discrimination still exists in the country, Justice Mishra rued that the government has failed to protect the people. He said,

“Humans can’t be treated this way. It is the most uncivilized and inhuman situation where people are losing their lives in gas chambers without any masks or oxygen cylinders.”

AG Venugopal’s responded that tort law be developed and executed to tackle the issue. He said,

“Not just gas chambers, so many people are dying because of potholes also. The real problem is that there is no tort law practiced in this country. The Magistrate has the jurisdiction, but not a single case has been filed suo motu.”

The Court, however, stuck to the issue of the government’s role in addressing the condition of manual scavengers, particularly the discrimination they face.

“All humans are equal and when they are equal you should provide them equal opportunities. You are not even providing them an equal chance and they are not even given basic facilities to clean themselves.”

The Court went on to ask everyone to soul search and answer if untouchability has indeed been abolished in India or not.

The Bench then reserved its order in the review petition filed by the Centre. It also asked the parties to submit their written submissions and said that the batch of petitions challenging the vires of the Amendment to the Act will be heard separately next week.

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