Insulting, abusing SC/ST person not an offence under SC/ST Act unless victim abused on account of caste: Supreme Court

The court further held that an offence under the Act also does not stand on its legs merely because the informant is from a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe community.
Insulting, abusing SC/ST person not an offence under SC/ST Act unless victim abused on account of caste: Supreme Court
Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi

The Supreme Court today held that insulting or intimidating a person belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) community will not by itself amount to an offence under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act unless such insult or intimidation is on account of victim belonging to SC/ST community (Hitesh Verma vs State of Uttarakhand).

An offence under the SC/ST Act is not established merely on the fact that the informant is a member of SC unless there is an intention to humiliate a member of SC/ST for the reason that the victim belongs to such a caste, the Court ruled.

"In the present case, the parties are litigating over possession of the 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," the top court held.

Thus, the apex court concluded that a property dispute between a person from SC/ST community and an upper caste person will not disclose an offence under SC/ST Act unless the allegations are on account of the victim belonging to SC/ST community.

The judgment was rendered by a three-judge Bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi in an appeal against a judgment of the Uttarakhand High Court. The High Court had dismissed a plea filed by appellant Hitesh Verma under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) seeking quashing of a charge-sheet and summoning order against him for an offence under Section 3(1)(r) of the SC/ST Act.

The case had its genesis in a complaint filed against the appellant who was accused of entering the house of the respondent and hurling casteist abuses and death threats.

It was the case of the respondent that the appellant had specifically targeted her caste and humiliated and threatened to kill her. An FIR was registered against the appellant for offences of trespass (section 452 of Indian Penal Code), criminal intimidation (Section 506) and for insulting and humiliating SC/ST person [Section 3(1)(r) of the SC/ST Act].

A property dispute between the appellant and respondent was already pending before the civil court when the criminal complaint against the appellant was registered. It was the appellant's case that the present case under the SC/ST Act was filed with the sole intention to harass him.

The apex court in its judgment noted that the SC/ST Act is "intended to punish the acts of the upper caste against the vulnerable section of the society for the reason that they belong to a particular community."

The charge-sheet which was assailed by the appellant was filed for the offence under Section 3(1)(r) of the Act and, thus, the Supreme Court deconstructed the said provision.

"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,” the court noted.

The Court held that since, in the present case, it was an accepted fact that the scene of action happened inside the four walls of the house of the respondent with no members of the public, the actions would not satisfy the second condition of Section 3(1)(r).

In this case, there existed a property dispute due to title and it had no connection with the caste of the complainant, the judgment said.

"The assertion of title over the land by either of the parties is not due to either the indignities, humiliations or harassment. Every citizen has a right to avail their remedies in accordance with law,"

the court stated.

Elaborating further on the civil dispute, the bench noted that the appellant and others were not permitting the respondent to cultivate the disputed land for the last six months.

However, the court made it clear that "any dispute arising on account of possession of the said property would not disclose an offence under the Act unless the victim is abused, intimated or harassed only for the reason that she belongs to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe."

Quashing the charge-sheet filed specifically for offence under Section 3(1)(r) of the act, the Court left it open for the police to investigate the appellant under other IPC offences.

The plea by the appellant was filed and argued by Advocate-on-Record Ayush Negi.

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