Not every offending remark against a member of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe will amount to an offence under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 “unless there is an intention to humiliate…for the reason that the victim belongs to such caste”, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi said that to constitute an offence under the Act, the words spoken must be “in any place within public view”, and not within the four walls of a house and in the absence of any member of the public.
The court said this while hearing an appeal by Uttarakhand resident Hitesh Verma, challenging the state High Court order rejecting his plea to quash the chargesheet and summoning orders. Quashing the offences under SC/ST Act, the top court said Verma will continue to face trial in respect of the other offences mentioned in the FIR.
The bench said: “There is a dispute about the possession of land which is the subject matter of civil dispute between the parties as per respondent No. 2 herself. Due to (the) dispute, appellant and others were not permitting respondent No. 2 to cultivate the land for the last six months. Since the matter is regarding possession of property pending before civil court, any dispute arising on account of possession of the said property would not disclose an offence under the [SC/ST] Act unless the victim is abused, intimated or harassed only for the reason that she belongs to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.”
The court added that “offence under the Act is not established merely on the fact that the informant is a member of Scheduled Caste unless there is an intention to humiliate a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe for the reason that the victim belongs to such caste. In the present case, the parties are litigating over possession of land. The allegation of hurling of abuses is against a person who claims title over the property. If such person happens to be a Scheduled Caste, the offence under Section 3(1)(r) of the Act is not made out”.
Also as per the FIR, the alleged incident took place within the four walls of the woman’s house and there was no other member of the public, the court said. Therefore “the basic ingredient that the words were uttered “in any place within public view” is not made out”, it said.
In the FIR, registered in December 2019, the woman, who is a member of the SC community, had accused Verma of using caste remarks against her.
She alleged that Verma and some others were not allowing her to work in her field, abused her and her labourers, and took away construction materials from the site where she was building a house.
Subsequently, a case was also filed against the woman.
Verma’s counsel said the two sides had a property dispute pending before the civil court and that the present FIR has been filed on false grounds to harass his client. He also contended that the allegations levelled in the FIR, and the subsequent report submitted by the police after investigation, do not disclose any offence under the Act.
The counsel for the state submitted that during investigation, certain people had supported the version of the informant.
The bench said that the SC/ST Act is intended to punish the acts of upper caste against the vulnerable sections of the society for the reason that they belong to a particular community, and that the basic ingredients of the offence under Section 3(1)(r) of the Act can be classified as “1) intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe and 2) in any place within public view”.
In the present case, it said, if either party has invoked the jurisdiction of the civil court, they “are availing their remedies in accordance with the procedure established by law. Such action is not for the reason that respondent No. 2 is member of Scheduled Caste”.
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