Context: The Punjab & Haryana High Court has ruled that the use of caste-based remarks during a phone call does not constitute an offence under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
- The accused had used caste-based slurs against the village Sarpanch in 2017 and charges were framed against them by the trial court in May 2019.
- Before HC, the accused argued that the allegations do not fall within the provisions of the 1989 Act as the telephone call is not in a public view.
- Section 3(1)(s) of SC/ST Act relates to a person, who abuses any member of a SC or ST by caste name in any place “within public view“.
- As per the court, allegations did not fall within the provisions of the 1989 Act as the telephone call is not in a public view.
- In the verdict the court held that it must be alleged that the accused intentionally insulted or intimidated with the intention to humiliate a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe in any public place to constitute as an offence under the Act.
- Once it is admitted that the alleged conversation over the mobile phone was not in a public gaze nor witnessed by any third party, the alleged use of caste words cannot be said to have been committed within the public view.
- The court said the expression “in any place within public view” has a specific meaning.
- The act of insult or intimidation must be visible and/or audible to the public in order to constitute such an act to be an offence under Section 3(1) of the Act.
- The word ‘public’ not only relates to the location defined by the word ‘place’, but also to the subjects witnessing the incidence of insult or intimidation.
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989:
- It has been enacted to prevent crimes against members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and to provide for relief and rehabilitation of victims of such offences.
- A person who is not a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe and commits an offence listed in the Act against a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe is an offender.
- The offences listed under the Act are:
- Forced to eat or drink an offensive or uneatable substance;
- Caused annoyance, injury or insult by an excreta or waste matter being dumped in his premises or neighbourhood;
- Paraded naked or with painted face or body;
- Wrongfully deprived of cultivation of his land etc.
- All the offences under the Act are cognizable and the police can arrest the offender without warrant and start investigation without taking orders from the court.
- The minimum punishment in most cases is six months imprisonment while the maximum is five years with fine.
- In some cases, the minimum may be enhanced to one year while maximum may be extended up to life imprisonment or even death sentence.
- If any public servant, not being a member of the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe deliberately neglects his duties which he has to perform under the Act, he is liable for punishment with imprisonment up to six months.
- The provision for anticipatory bail is not available to the offender under the Act.
- There is a provision of the constitution of special courts for hearing cases on atrocities against scheduled caste and scheduled tribes.
Image Source: Indian Express