In a recent ruling, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court clarified the application of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, asserting that individuals could only be prosecuted under the Act if their casteist comments were uttered in a “place within a public view.” This judgment came to light as the court overturned criminal charges against a school owner accused of hurling casteist abuse.
Judge Shamim Ahmed, presiding over an educationist’s plea challenging criminal proceedings, declared that verbal abuse using caste names within the confines of a private residence, where no outsider is present, would not constitute an offense under the SC/ST Act.
The case in question involved allegations against a school owner who was accused of deliberately failing a student and others in 12th-grade examinations. The complainant asserted that the accused had promised him Rs 5 lakh to withdraw the case and had insulted him by referencing his caste. However, the court noted that the complainant had not provided details about the nature of the insults and emphasized that the alleged mistreatment had not occurred in public.
The court highlighted that for an offense under Section 3(1)(s) of the SC/ST Act, the casteist remarks must be spoken in an open environment and within the presence of other individuals. It further referenced previous Supreme Court rulings, stating, “An offence under the Act, 1989 would be made out when a member of the vulnerable section of society is subjected to indignities, humiliations, and harassment in any place within the public view.”
The judgment emphasized the absence of impartial witnesses during the alleged occurrence at the complainant’s residence. The court noted that the complainant himself stated in the FIR and his statement under Section 161 CrPC that the incident occurred inside his house, where no outsider was present, rendering it not a “place within a public view.”
Additionally, the court clarified that the school owner had no role in the examination result process, highlighting that the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) solely managed student examination results. The ruling provides a nuanced interpretation of the SC/ST Act, delineating the conditions under which caste-based comments can lead to legal consequences.