"Insult must be done in a public place within public view", P&H HC says casteist words over phonecall not an offence under SC/ST Act, 1988
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"Insult must be done in a public place within public view", P&H HC says casteist words over phonecall not an offence under SC/ST Act, 1988

"In the present case, it is alleged that the offence has been committed by using caste based remarks over a phone call to the informant, or a member of Scheduled Castes, of which there are no records", it was observed.

Meera Emmanuel

The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently ruled that making a casteist remark over phone would not constitute an offence under the SC/ST Act since the ingredient of the insult being in "public place and within public view" would be absent.

The Court was dealing with pleas by two accused against charges framed against them for criminal intimidation and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST Act).

The two men were accused of having intimidated a village sarpanch, who belonged to a scheduled caste, over phone and by making casteist remarks. The trial court found that a prima facie offence had been made out and framed charges for the same. This order was challenged before the Punjab and Haryana High Court

High Court judge, Justice Harnaresh Singh Gill observed, in turn, that, "To constitute the offence under the Act, it must be alleged that the accused intentionally insulted or intimidated with intention to humiliate a member of Scheduled Caste or Schedule Tribe in any public place within public view. In the present case, it is alleged that the offence has been committed by the petitioners by using the caste based remarks over a mobile phone call to the informant, or a member of Scheduled Castes, of which there are no records.

As such, the judge found that,

"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."
Punjab and Haryana High Court

The Court went on to observe that "merely uttering such wrong words in the absence of any public view does not show any intention or mens rea to humiliate the complainant who besides being Sarpanch, belongs to Scheduled Caste community."

The Court added the following basic ingredients necessary must be present to constitute the SC/ST Act offence charged against the accused:

  • There must be intentional insult,

  • The insult must be done in a public place within public view, which is not in the present case.

Justice Gill added, "Since these are the penal provisions, the same are to be given a strict construction and if any of the ingredients are found lacking, it would not constitute the offence under the SC/ST Act."

In this backdrop, the Court went on to find that that the prosecution has failed to make out a prima facie case for commission of offence punishable under Section 3 of SC/ST Act.

Further, since no offence under the SC/ST Act was made out, it was held that the other offences charged under Section 506 IPC read with Section 34 IPC, which stemmed out of the alleged offence under Section 3 of the SC and ST Act, is also not made out

Therefore, the Court proceeded to set aside the trial court's order as well as the FIR itself.

Read the Order:

Punjab HC order re SC-ST Act Offences - May 14.pdf
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