National Coalition for Strengthening SCs & STs PoA Act and National Dalit Movement for Justice- NCDHR strongly condemns the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in the matter of Hitesh Verma vs the State of Uttarakhand, as it weakens the roots of the fight against untouchability.
The recent Supreme Court judgment stated that “insulting or intimidating a person belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) community will not be counted as offence under the SC/ST PoA Act unless such insult or intimidation is on account of victim belonging to SC/ST community.”
The Dalit, Adivasi bodies further reiterated that the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was framed to prevent atrocities committed against the Dalit and Adivasi communities.
“The PoA Act is intended to serve and protect the rights of Dalits and Adivasis. However, on several occasions, the system, various government bodies, and various powerhouses attempted to dilute the provisions of the Act. The judgment delivered is one such attempt. The judgment will form the base of gross social injustice to the marginalised and vulnerable communities,” a statement issued by National Coalition for Strengthening SCs & STs PoA Act and National Dalit Movement for Justice- NCDHR reads.
According to them, it is only due to the constant struggle of few civil society organisations and Dalit and Adivasi leaders, the act is still into existence.
“The research data from various source reveals that the “Act” has not been properly implemented. Still, there is a large fragment of people belonging to the marginalised community for whom ensuring access to justice is still remains a dream. In most of the cases, people belonging to Dalit or Adivasi community do not even report the due to fear of social boycott or other forms of atrocity by the dominant castes.” the statement noted.
The judgment and criticisms
As per the facts of the case, A Dalit man raised his voice against forceful and illegal land possession by the dominant caste members. The Dalit man and his family members were constantly being threatened and subjected to atrocity.
The FIR was lodged for the offences under Sections 452, 504, 506 of Indian Penal Code and Section 3(1)(r) and 3(1)(e) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The police filed its report of the investigation and removed Section 3(1)(e) from the charge sheet. The accused later filed an application under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code for the quashing of FIR.
The appeal made by the accused came before the apex court and the court, while quashing the FIR, reiterated that “This act intended to punish the acts of the upper caste” and this case had no connection with the caste (Scheduled Caste) of the complainant.
According to the Dalit and Adivasi bodies, the court has ignored few of the most important legal aspects while delivering the judgment. The same are as follows:
- The police authorities, at the initial phase of the investigation, had failed to invoke sections 3 (1) (u) and 3 (2) (va) of SC/ST Act 1989 in the said FIR. The facts of the case clearly attract these provisions. In particular, when the FIR is registered under IPC sections, the police authorities are also bound to include section 3 (2) (va) of SC/ST PoA Act. Moreover since the FIR is registered under 506 of IPC, so it is obvious that section 3 (2) (va) of SC/ST PoA Act is applicable. But the Hon’ble Court did not consider these legalities of the case and rendered a judgment which is against the principle of Social Justice.
- Moreover section 8 of the SC/ST PoA Act, 1989 talks about presumption as to offence. Sub Clause (c) of Section 8 further says that “the accused having personal knowledge of the victim or his family, the Court shall presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim, unless the contrary is proved”. The apex court has failed to look into this significant feature of the act.
- Finally the Hon’ble court has ignored the basic principle set up under the Object and Reason clause of the act, i.e., the Act was enacted to improve the social economic conditions of the vulnerable sections of the society as they have been subjected to various offences such as indignities, humiliations and harassment. Even if a member of Schedule caste or Schedule Tribe is being verbally caste abused by the member of Dominant Caste, under the pretext of his caste identity, the act amounts to humiliation, harassment and violation of Article 21, i.e., Right to Life and Personal Dignity.
National Dalit Movement for Justice said the court has failed to consider the above mentioned aspect and has grossly erred in rendering the said impugned judgment.
The court shall reconsider the appeal by taking suo-moto congnizance and transfer the same to a constitutional bench for consideration, it said.
It also urged to State to file a review petition in order to ensure that the victims have access to justice.
National Dalit Movement for Justice further said action shall be taken against the concerned police authorities under section 4 (wilful negligence) of the SC/ST PoA Act for including inappropriate sections and diluting the gravity of the incident and for favouring the accused person.