The Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that a castiest remark against a member of the Scheduled Caste community, which is made over a phone call, does not constitute an offence under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST Act).
In its ruling, the Court made it clear that such remarks under SC/ST act do not show any intention to humiliate the complainant since they were made away from public view.
A single judge Bench of Justice Haranesh Singh Gill delivered this judgment on May 14 in a plea challenging a lower Court order by virtue of which charges had been framed against two men from Kurukshetra, Haryana.
Some men had allegedly threatened to kill the village Sarpanch (village head), and used foul language and casteist slurs against him over a telephonic conversation.
“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. It would not, thus, ipso-facto, constitute acts of commission of offence, which are capable of being taken cognizance under the SC/ ST Act, 1989”, held the Court.
Throwing light on an offence, as envisioned, under the SC/ST Act, Justice Gill emphasized that an accused must have insulted or intimidated any member of the Scheduled Caste or Schedule Tribe community with the intention to humiliate them.
The alleged remarks must be made in a public place, in public view, added the Judge. Thus, in the present scenario, it was held 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.”
Iterating the position of law regarding sufficiency of grounds to proceed against an accused under SC/ST act , Justice Gill granted the benefit of doubt to the accused and stated that:-
“It is a settled law that if two views are possible and one gives rise to suspicion only, as distinguished from grave suspicion the trial Judge will be empowered to discharge the accused and at that stage, it is not to be seen whether the trial will end in conviction or acquittal.”
Read the order here: