The Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that a casteist 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 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. These 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 and 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. For the same to happen, 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."
On October 26, 2017, an FIR was lodged against the two men – Sandeep Kumar and Pardeep Kumar- under relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and SC/ST Act on the basis of a complaint by Sarpanch, Rajinder Kumar.
The chargesheet was accordingly submitted, and a local Court in Kurukshetra ordered the framing of charges against the accused on May 9, 2019.
Aggrieved by the same, the petitioners moved High Court and submitted that the allegations against the petitioners could not stand as they do not fall within the provisions of the SC/ST Act, given that a conversation over the phone is not in public view.
Though the respondents argued to the contrary, the High Court agreed with the submissions of the petitioner and allowed the appeal. Thus, the Court quashed the FIR and set aside the order of chargesheet and framing of charges against the accused.
With regard to offences under the IPC (criminal intimidation u/s 506, read with common intention u/s34), it was held that since these offences emanated from the offences under the SC/ST Act, even they could not be made out.
It was held that "the basic ingredients of the offence in the FIR are that there must be intentional insult, secondly the insult must be done in a public place within public view, which is not in the present case. Thus, the essential ingredients which must be fulfilled, are not found in the present case. 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."
Iterating the position of law regarding sufficiency of grounds to proceed against an accused, 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."
Click Here To Download Order