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Section 3(2)(v) of SC/ST Act Will Attract As Long As Caste Identity Is One Of The Grounds For The Occurrence Of Offence: SC Doubts Earlier Judgments

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
28 April 2021 4:46 AM GMT
Section 3(2)(v) of SC/ST Act Will Attract As Long As Caste Identity Is One Of The Grounds For The Occurrence Of Offence: SC Doubts Earlier Judgments
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The Supreme Court doubted the earlier judgments which interpreted Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,1989, to mean that the offence should have been committed "only on the ground that the victim was a member of the Scheduled Caste.

The bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah observed that this provision will attract as long as caste identity is one of the grounds for the occurrence of the offence. To deny the protection of Section 3 (2) (v) on the premise that the crime was not committed against an SC & ST person solely on the ground of their caste identity is to deny how social inequalities function in a cumulative fashion, the court said.

The bench however did not refer the issue to larger bench since it found that the evidence in the present case does not establish that the offence in the present case was committed on the ground that such person is a member of a SC or ST.

The bench was considering the appeal filed by one Patan Jamal Vali, the sole accused tried for the offences punishable under Section 376(1) of the IPC and under Section 3(2)(v) of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for committing rape on the victim girl who is aged about 20 years and blind by birth, on 31.03.2011 at about 9:30 AM in her house. The High Court had affirmed the conviction of the accused by the Trial Court on these charges. The Supreme Court finally set aside the conviction of the accused under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC and ST Act but upheld the conviction and life sentence punishable under Section 376 IPC.

Juxtaposition of "the" before "ground" does not invariably mean that the offence ought to have been committed only on that ground.

The court noted that under Section 3(2)(v), an enhanced punishment of imprisonment for life with fine is provided where (i) The offence is committed by a person who is not a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe; (ii) The offence arises under the Penal Code and is against a person or property and is punishable with imprisonment for a term of ten years or more; and (iii) The offence is committed "on the ground that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe" or such property belongs to such a person.

The court noted the decisions in Dinesh Alias Buddha v. State of Rajasthan (2006) 3 SCC 771, Ramdas and Others v. State of Maharashtra (2007) 2 SCC 170, in which it was observed that merely because a woman belongs to the SC & ST community, the provisions of the SC & ST Act would not be attracted in a case of sexual assault. In Ashrafi v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2018) 1 SCC 742 and Khuman Singh v. State of MP, the Court noted, Section 3(2)(v) was interpreted to mean that the offence should have been committed "only on the ground that the victim was a member of the Scheduled Caste."

"The correctness of this exposition is debatable. The statutory provision does not utilize the expression "only on the ground". Reading the expression "only" would be to add a restriction which is not found in the statute. The statute undoubtedly uses the words "on the ground' but the juxtaposition of "the" before "ground" does not invariably mean that the offence ought to have been committed only on that ground. To read the provision in that manner will dilute a statutory provision which is meant to safeguard the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes against acts of violence which pose a threat to their dignity. As we have emphasized before in the judgment, an intersectional lens enables us to view oppression as a sum of disadvantage resulting from multiple marginalized identities. To deny the protection of Section 3 (2) (v) on the premise that the crime was not committed against an SC & ST person solely on the ground of their caste identity is to deny how social inequalities function in a cumulative fashion. It is to render the experiences of the most marginalized invisible. It is to grant impunity to perpetrators who on account of their privileged social status feel entitled to commit atrocities against socially and economically vulnerable communities. This is not to say that there is no requirement to establish a causal link between the harm suffered and the ground, but it is to recognize that how a person was treated or impacted was a result of interaction of multiple grounds or identities. A true reading of Section 3(2)(v) would entail that conviction under this provision can be sustained as long as caste identity is one of the grounds for the occurrence of the offence. In the view which we ultimately take, a reference of these decisions to a larger bench in this case is unnecessary. We keep that open and the debate alive for a later date and case.", the bench observed.

2016 Amendment decreased the threshold of proving that a crime was committed on the basis of the caste identity

The court further noted that Section 3(2)(v) was amended by the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, which came into effect on 26 January 2016. The words "on the ground of" under Section 3(2) (v) have been substituted with "knowing that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe".

"This has decreased the threshold of proving that a crime was committed on the basis of the caste identity to a threshold where mere knowledge is sufficient to sustain a conviction. Section 8 which deals with presumptions as to offences was also amended to include clause (c) to provide that if the accused was acquainted with the victim or his family, the court shall presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise", the court said.

The court observed that since these amendments came into force from 26 January 2016 they would not be applicable to the case at hand.


Case: Patan Jamal Vali vs. State of Andhra Pradesh [CrA 452 of 2021]
Coram: Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah
Counsel: Adv Harinder Mohan Singh,
Citation: LL 2021 SC 231

Click here to Read/Download Judgment









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