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It is not enough that a victim of crime belongs to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe for an offence to lie under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (SC/ST Act). In order to attract an offence under the SC/ST Act, it must also be shown that the crime was triggered because the victim was a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.
Observations to this effect were made in a judgment passed by a Bench of Justices R Banumathi and AS Bopanna on Tuesday. As stated in the judgment.
“…the offence must be such so as to attract the offence under Section 3(2)(v) of the [SC/ST] Act.The offence must have been committed against the person on the ground that such person is a member of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe.”
In this regard, reliance was placed on the Supreme Court’s earlier judgment in Dinesh alias Buddha v. State of Rajasthan, wherein it was observed,
“Sine qua non for application of Section 3(2)(v) [of the SC/ST Act] is that an offence must have been committed against a person on the ground that such person is a member of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes … In the absence of evidence to that effect, Section 3(2)(v) of the Atrocities Act been applicable then by operation of law, the sentence would have been imprisonment for life and fine.”
The case before the Court concerned the death of a man belonging to the Khangar caste. In 2005, a fight broke out after the victim objected to a man bringing his buffalos to graze on the fields that the victim was cultivating. The owner of the buffalos belonged to the Thakur caste. In the course of the fight, the owner of the buffaloes is said to have verbally abused the victim after referring to his caste. The fight eventually culminated with the man from the Thakur caste attacking the victim with an axe, leading to his death.
Both the trial court and the High Court found the accused guilty of murder. Since the accused had brought up the caste of the victim, he was also convicted under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC/ST Act. This provision enhances the punishment applicable to criminal offences under the IPC if the crime is committed against a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled tribe.
On appeal, however, the Supreme Court modified the lower court’s conviction of murder to one of culpable homicide not amounting murder. This was done in view of the fact that the crime here was not premeditated. The Bench found,
“Considering the fact that the occurrence was in a sudden fight, in our view, the occurrence would fall under Exception 4 to Section 300 IPC. The conviction of the appellant-accused under Section 302 IPC is therefore to be modified as conviction under Section 304 Part II IPC. “
The Bench also proceeded to quash the charge levelled against the appellant under the SC/ST Act since there was no evidence to prove that the crime was committed because the victim was a member of the Khangar caste. The Court noted,
“In the present case, the fact that the deceased was belonging to “Khangar”-Scheduled Caste is not disputed. There is no evidence to show that the offence was committed only on the ground that the victim was a member of the Scheduled Caste and therefore, the conviction of the appellant-accused under Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is not sustainable.“
The Court, therefore, acquitted the appellant of charges under the SC/ST Act. Further, it also ordered that the imprisonment sentence imposed would stand modified to the period of over 12 years already undergone by the appellant.
“In the result, the conviction of the appellant under Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is set aside and he is acquitted of the said charge. The conviction of the appellant under Section 302 IPC is modified as conviction under Section 304 Part II IPC and is sentenced to undergo imprisonment to the period already undergone. Accordingly, the appeal is partly allowed and the appellant is ordered to be released forthwith, if his presence is not required in any other case.“