The Supreme Court on Tuesday (March 14) observed that the caste of parties involved in a case should not be mentioned in the cause title of judgments. In simpler terms, it said the caste of the people involved in the matter need not be mentioned in the name of the case file.
The apex court’s advice came while it was hearing a case — ‘State of Rajasthan vs Gautam Harijan’ — against the reduction of a rape convict’s sentence. The state government had challenged a Rajasthan High Court ruling, which upheld the conviction of a rape convict but reduced his sentence owing to factors like his age, incarceration period, and being a first-time offender. The man had been convicted by a trial court under sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012 Act.
A division bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Rajesh Bindal directed the Registrar General of the Rajasthan High Court to provide a copy of the order to all principal, district, and sessions judges in the state.
“We may note here that in the cause title of the judgment delivered by the ld. Special Judge under the POCSO Act, Kota, in the State of Rajasthan. In the cause title, the caste of the accused has been mentioned. We are of the view that such practice should never be followed and that the trial courts are well advised to not mention caste in the cause title of judgments,” the bench was quoted as saying by Live Law.
During the hearing, the advocate appearing for the state said that in Rajasthan, even FIRs sometimes contain the accused’s caste details, and that HC rules require it. The court asked the counsel to show this rule while adjourning the matter, LiveLaw had reported.
Various High Courts have repeatedly frowned upon this practice, terming it a “colonial legacy”.
The Rajasthan High Court has previously disallowed this practice.
On April 25, 2020, Advocate on Record Amit Pai wrote to the then Chief Justice of India S A Bobde, raising concerns over the “regressive practice” of mentioning the caste of parties in affidavits, case titles and memos of parties in court filings, in the aftermath of a widely publicised virtual hearing before the Jaipur Bench of the Rajasthan High Court in the case of ‘Lala Ram S/o Shyoji Ram, By Caste Gurjar vs State of Rajasthan’.
Two days later, on April 27, 2020, the Rajasthan High Court issued a “Standing Order” disallowing this practice, signed by its Registrar General. “It has been observed that the caste of accused and other persons is being incorporated by the officers/officials of Registry of this Court and Presiding Officers of Subordinate Courts/Special Courts/Tribunals in judicial and administrative matters, which is against the spirit of Constitution of India,” the order said.
The order laid down that the caste of any person, including the accused, should not be incorporated in any “judicial or administrative matter”, while relying on a Rajasthan High Court order dated July 4, 2018, in ‘Bishan vs State of Rajasthan’.
In Bishan’s case, the Rajasthan High Court ordered that “the police shall not mention the caste of an individual in the arrest memo as identifying a person by caste is neither provided under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) nor is provided under any law under the Constitution, while exempting cases under Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Other High Courts have also frowned upon it.
The Himachal Pradesh High Court on September 16, 2016, in the case of ‘Kishan Kumar vs State of Himachal Pradesh’, said the practice of mentioning one’s caste separately in criminal proceedings must be stopped. “We should, as a public policy, shun the caste system,” the court said in its judgment while directing the state’s Principal Secretary to issue directions to all Investigating Officers to refrain from mentioning the caste of the accused, witnesses, or victims in recovery or seizure memos, FIRs or inquest papers and other forms, as prescribed in the CrPC and the Punjab Police Rules.
A few years later, on March 25, 2019, the Punjab & Haryana High Court in ‘Rakesh Sharma & Others vs State of Haryana’ observed that the police had “used” the caste of the parties, and said, “This is not permissible. Mentioning of caste/status separately in the criminal proceedings is a colonial legacy and requires to be stopped forthwith.”
The court also referred to the Constitution and its guarantee of a casteless and classless society. “Segmentation of the society into groups can not be determined by birth,” the court said in its judgment while issuing instructions to all judicial officers to refrain from the practice of mentioning caste names in FIRs, memos, inquest papers, etc.