2 Sep 2023 3:59 AM GMT
The Bombay High Court has ruled that the protection to members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (Atrocities Act) can't be limited to states where they are officially recognized as such.A Full Bench of Justice Revati Mohite Dere, Justice Bharati Dangre, and Justice NJ Jamadar held that even if a...
The Bombay High Court has ruled that the protection to members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (Atrocities Act) can't be limited to states where they are officially recognized as such.
A Full Bench of Justice Revati Mohite Dere, Justice Bharati Dangre, and Justice NJ Jamadar held that even if a community isn’t recognized as SC or ST in a state, they still get the protection of the Act if an atrocity happens against them there (Sanjay Katkar v. State of Maharashtra).
“The scope of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes ( Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 cannot be restricted to a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe to the State or Union Territory in which he is declared as Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe only, but he is also entitled to the protection under the Act, in any other part of the country, where the offence is committed, though he is not recognized as Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe in that part”, the court held.
The bench was answering a reference by a Single Judge bench of Justice SV Kotwal who referred two questions regarding territorial limits of protection under the Atrocities Act as well the composition of the bench for deciding appeals and bail applications under the Act.
Interpretation To Reduce Harm
The court said that the Atrocities Act was enacted recognizing that whenever members of the 'Scheduled Castes' and 'Scheduled Tribes' assert their Constitutional rights and seek legal protection, they face intimidation, oppression, disillusionment, and even terrorization. They have continued to experience discrimination despite affirmative action, the court noted.
The court said that a law aimed at combatting socially rooted crimes should be interpreted in a way that advances the legislature's intent and suppresses the harm it seeks to address. A narrow and overly technical interpretation would undermine the purpose of this special law and hinder its implementation, the court held.
The court observed that interpretation of the term ‘in relation to that State’ used in Article 341 and 342 of the Constitution is for the purpose of affirmative action and cannot be applied when it comes preventing the atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
“The action under the Atrocities Act, is for preventing the member of this class being subjected to Atrocities, which is distinct from claiming a privilege which a person may not avail, when he migrates from one State to other. The Atrocities Act is entitled to protect the human dignity of the members belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe and in no case, deserves a restricted or constricted meaning, confning their status only to a particular State”, said the court.
Caste Identity Persists Despite Changes
The court rejected Advocate Abhinav Chandrachud's argument that the benefits of the Atrocities Act should be limited to the state where a person's caste is recognized as Scheduled Caste. It pointed out that a person's caste identity is remarkably resilient, remaining with them even when they change cities or professions.
The court stated, “He may travel to different cities and undertake different occupations, at times dignified one, but would find it difficult to shed off his caste-based identity, as it is nearly impossible to break the rigors of the inflexible and exclusive character of the caste system.”
Barriers Remain Despite Marriage or Conversion
The court also emphasized that a person cannot free themselves from caste barriers through marriage or conversion. While their economic and social status may superficially change, it is tough to attain the status of a higher caste in terms of education, progress, and overcoming past suffering, the court said. Even if life is improved through good deeds and social progress, individuals cannot escape the label that comes with being born into a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the court highlighted.
Act Protects Fundamental Right to Travel And Reside Anywhere In The Country
The court further opined that restricting the identity of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe solely to their state of origin would indirectly compel them to remain bound to their state of origin, without the opportunity to progress by venturing beyond. This would infringe upon their fundamental right to move and reside in any part of India under Article 19(1)(d) and (e) of the Constitution harming them more than helping them compete with members of higher castes and striving for equality, the court held.
Appeal To Lie Before Single Judge Bench
The court further ruled that, to avoid discrepancies, appeals against trial court orders under the Atrocities Act, regardless of the specified punishment, should be dealt by a single judge of the High Court. Section 14A of the Atrocities Act does not specify whether such appeals should go before a single-judge bench or a division bench. The court relied on the Bombay High Court Appellate Side Rules, which empower it to make decisions in this regard to facilitate the administration of justice. The court held that appeals against grant/refusal of bail under by Section 14A(2) of the Act should also be heard by a single judge of the High Court.
Case Title: Sanjay Katkar v. State of Maharashtra
Click here to read the judgment