In my previous article (“Do SCs and STs face disproportionately more violent crimes in India?”, FE, June 21; goo.gl/L7P5rf), I had called into question the claims about excessive violence against SCs and STs that were made by groups such as Amnesty International. Amnesty International India’s Leah Verghese responded trying to defend Amnesty. But rather than bringing forth any credible justifications, Verghese repeated some of Amnesty’s earlier assertions and brought in more errors, manipulations of data and baseless allegations. Here is why her defence of Amnesty exposes the group’s bias and shoddy work even further.
Amnesty indeed fudged conviction rates
I had questioned Amnesty International’s erroneous assertion that the conviction rate for the crimes under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (POA) Act is only 15%. The alleged lower conviction rates have often been presented as due to the failure of the police and the judiciary ostensibly on account of some “deeply entrenched prejudice” against SCs and STs and as a reflection of a general apathy towards the gruesome violence against the communities. Verghese responded to my article saying I was wrong in claiming that Amnesty had fudged data and that the figure of 15.4% as the conviction rate for crimes under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act “is cited by the NCRB 2016 report itself on pages XXV and 571”.
So now let us fact-check this claim. It is indeed true that the NCRB’s CII 2016 report mentions the conviction rate of 15.4% on page 571. But what crimes is this crime-heading referring to? The explanation has been provided in the ‘Executive Summary’ (page 5 of NCRB report). And it says: “Figure does not include cases registered under IPC along with SC/ST (PoA) Act as those cases have already been counted under IPC Crimes”.
So these crimes, for which the conviction rate is mentioned as 15.4%, refer to only 4,595 out of the 18,109 (or about 25% of) cases disposed off by the courts under the POA Act in 2016. The correct conviction rates for all the 18,109 cases are mentioned on page 303 and 347 of NCRB CII 2016 Report and are 25.8% and 20.8% for crimes against SCs and STs, respectively (or 25% for SC+ST).
So, the question is: Did Amnesty and Verghese miss reading this clarification by NCRB on what the number meant? Or are they deliberately trying to gloss over, while they keep their fingers crossed, hoping nobody finds out? Nobody could, perhaps, have faulted had it been a mere calculation error or an oversight which can be corrected at least when the error is pointed out. But that does not seem to be the case here as Amnesty is defending the error, perhaps because its whole narrative is dependent upon it?
Verghese writes, “Sashittal is welcome to disbelieve this statistic (of 15% or 15.4%), or offer an alternative analysis”. But sadly for Amnesty, these are not a matter of subjective opinions or beliefs and there are no ‘alternative facts’.
So what crimes have the conviction rates of 15.4% then?
The POA Act is extensively used along with the provisions within the Indian Penal Code (IPC). For example, for a murder reported under the POA Act, the charges would invariably be registered under the sections of IPC along with the clauses of the POA Act. This is true for the most violent crimes under the POA Act like murder, rape, etc, and even less violent crimes like hurt, intimidation and trespass. Consider the accompanying graphics that details the categories of cases within the POA Act.
In 2016, about 75% of all cases disposed off by the courts under the POA Act were charged along with the provisions of the IPC. These 75% of the cases include the most violent crimes and together have a conviction rate of 28.3%. The remaining about 25% part represents cases that are solely charged under the provisions of the POA Act and hence excludes the most violent crimes. This 25% part has a conviction rate of 15.4%.
From a data analysis standpoint, the IPC data on violent crimes is significant because there is comparable data available for the individual crime-headings like murder, rape, etc, against SCs, STs and the overall population. Therefore, it is easy to compare and see how the conviction rates match for the same crimes in the populations considered. As I have shown in my earlier article, the conviction rates for violent crimes against victims belonging to these three categories are about 29% for SCs, 22% for STs and 24% for the overall population, i.e. they are not disproportionately low for SCs and STs as implied by Amnesty.
Shoddy allegations against the Supreme Court
Asserting Amnesty’s allegations of cherry-picking and dubiousness against the Supreme Court, Verghese claims that the apex court relied “on NCRB data from 2015 which showed that around 9.6% of cases involving crimes against SCs and STs were found to be ‘false’” and laments that crimes of kidnapping and forgery too have a high incidence of false cases and that there is no similar outrage against the misuse of these crimes.
Firstly, the figure 9.6% as the percentage of false cases is completely false. There is no mention of it in the Supreme Court’s judgment either. Where the cases in 2015 data are discussed, the judgment notes from submissions that “in almost 15-16% cases, the competent police authorities had filed closure reports”. The accompanying chart projects data from the 2015 report of NCRB that gives the values of 15.32% and 16.82% for percentages of false cases for total crimes against SCs and STs.
So, Amnesty seems to have not only misreported this number but has also made a false claim that the Supreme Court relied on it in its judgment. So much for Amnesty’s allegations of dubiousness against the Supreme Court.
Apart from the erroneous numbers, Verghese’s lament of selective outrage is also based on a false equivalence. The Supreme Court was looking into concerns about misuse mainly with respect to the provisions within the POA Act that result in arbitrary arrests and denial of anticipatory bail even for minor offences that are based merely on accusations. The laws on kidnapping and forgery do not have such draconian provisions.
In a field survey by the Dr BR Ambedkar Research Institute in 2008, to evaluate the compensation given to victims under the POA Act, a significant portion of the accused of the cases reported came from economically and socially very backward communities classified under the ‘Other Backward Class’ (OBC). Many of the offences were minor and reported to have been from trivial altercations. There are also instances where cases against people from SCs themselves have been registered based on allegations and counter-allegations of atrocities. It is not as if the accused are always wealthy or powerful, or the crimes are always violent in nature, as the simplistic propaganda on caste violence makes it out to be.
Amnesty International’s opposition to safeguards against arbitrary arrests also runs contrary to its own stand as stated on its website that it is against detention “with no legitimate reason or without legal process”.
Baseless allegations and attacks
What Amnesty’s allegations lack in substance or statistical judgment, they try to make up through spurious allegations, building straw-man arguments and by pompous expressions of personal incredulity like “disingenuous” ,“absurd” as if they are all substitute to facts.
For example, I had said in my previous article that while crimes are “known to be under-reported in all populations”, the claims of under-reporting of crimes cannot explain away the lower rates of violent crimes against SCs and STs in the crime data. Verghese twists this by claiming that I had meant the under-reporting of crimes against SCs and STs itself is unfounded and goes at length to refute this substituted position.
Also, my previous article had shown from the NCRB data for the period between 1995 and 2013 that the rates for violent crimes against SCs and STs were far lesser than those against the overall population. Verghese tries to discredit the data by implying that the crime rates presented are based on wrong denominators. This is a completely spurious allegation. If Amnesty had closely looked, it would have realised that the rates have been recalculated based on estimated individual populations. Importantly, it would also have seen that the observation about lower rates of violent crimes against SCs and STs is inescapable from the NCRB statistics for any of the years and that it cannot wish it away through spurious allegations, word games or manipulations of data.
Again nice try Amnesty! Would it have been better had you graciously accepted the errors pointed out and made amends rather than entangling yourself into more fallacious arguments and manipulations of data in their support?
Nihar Sashittal is an independent researcher with a keen interest in science, philosophy and the study of Indian civilisation.
A detailed version of this article appeared in Swarajya magazine: swarajyamag.com/politics/amnesty-lied-on-caste-violence-and-it-lies-again (Reproduced with permission from Swarajya.)