Atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are not a thing of the past. They continue to be a reality in our society even today. Hence, the statutory provisions which have been enacted by Parliament as a measure of protecting the constitutional rights of persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes must be complied with and enforced conscientiously. Many perpetrators of caste-based atrocities get away scot-free due to shoddy investigations and the negligence of prosecution and this results in low conviction rates under the SC/ST Act giving rise to the erroneous perception that cases registered are false and that it is being misused.
THE SCHEDULED CASTES AND SCHEDULED TRIBES (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) ACT, 1989
The act broadens the definition of atrocity by covering many crimes or omissions of atrocity that were not covered under the Indian Penal Code or the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. Additionally, the SC/ST Act protects Scheduled Castes and Tribes against a variety of abuses involving social disability, property, malicious prosecution, political rights, and economic exploitation. The SC/ST Act provides for higher penalties for offences against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The minimum penalty for a public servant’s failure to perform his or her obligations was also enhanced. Provisions were provided for victims of atrocities and their legal heirs to receive little relief and compensation.
Additionally, the Act provides for the exclusion of potential offenders from Scheduled Areas and Tribal Areas, as well as the attachment of the accused’s property. The Act forbids the issue of anticipatory bail to the accused and repeals the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958. Certain preventive measures included in the Act include the termination of potential offenders’ arms licenses and even the issue of arms licenses to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for self-defense purposes.
Word “atrocity” means offence punishable under Section 3 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Section 3 of the Act deals with the offences against members of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe by any person, who is not a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.
- Expressions Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are not a caste within the ordinary meaning of caste. Scheduled Castes and Tribes are descriptive of backwardness. It is the aim of our Constitution to bring them up from handicapped position to improvement. No Court can come to a finding that any caste or any tribe is Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribes. Scheduled Caste is a caste as notified under Article 366(25) of the Constitution of India.
- Expression Public Place
Generally, a public site is one that is owned or leased by the Government, the municipality (or other local body), the gaon sabha, or a State instrumentality, and not by private individuals or private corporations. The location must be designed for public use or access. By any stretch of the imagination, a private structure cannot be considered to be intended for public use or to be open to the public. The location in question falls under the definition of “public place” as defined in Section 43 of the Act.
SCHEME OF THE ACT
The Act’s structure reveals unequivocally that Parliament inserted numerous measures with the goal of enhancing the social dignity and self-esteem of members of the S.C. & S.T. community. The SC/ST Act’s numerous provisions will act as a shield, but not as a sword. In recent years, the number of lawsuits filed under this Act has increased daily, indicating a growing social consciousness among members of the S.C. & S.T. community. The letter and spirit of this country’s Constitution require that citizens refrain from claiming that they can do anything as a matter of right without abiding by the social and moral obligations imposed on them. Before bringing an allegation, reasonable care and prudence should be exercised.
OFFENCES UNDER THE ACT:
The victim/member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe against whom any of the following offences are committed by the offender:
- Forced to eat or drink an offensive or uneatable substance;
- Caused annoyance, injury or insult by any excreta or waste matter being dumped in his premises or neighborhood;
- Paraded naked or with painted face or body;
- Wrongfully deprived of cultivation of his land;
- Wrongfully deprived of his rights over any land, premises or water;
- Forced to do beggary or work as a bonded labourer;
- Prevented from exercising his right to vote or according to his wishes;
- Subjected to false legal proceedings;
- Caused injury or annoyance by a public servant on the basis of false information given to him;
- Deliberately insulted and humiliated in public view;
- A woman who is sexually assaulted;
- Deprived of his right to clean drinking water;
- Deprived of his right of passage to a public place;
- Forced to leave his house or village;
- Falsely implicated in a criminal case which might result in his imprisonment or execution;
- Intended harm or injury by burning a place of his dwelling or worship;
- Wrongfully caused injury or subjected to any other offence by a public servant.
INVESTIGATION UNDER THE ACT:
The 1989 SC/ST Act was created specifically to safeguard Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes members against crimes perpetrated against them by non-Scheduled Castes and non-Scheduled Tribes members. The 1989 SC/ST Act makes no provision for the investigation of such crimes to be limited to a particular police officer or class of police officers. In other words, any police officer authorized by the Code of Criminal Procedure to investigate a crime or bring a prosecution was competent to make an arrest, conduct an investigation, or bring a prosecution in connection with the offence punishable under the Act of 1989. However, a restriction was imposed on the investigation of offences committed under the Act of 1989 by the Rules adopted under sub-section (1) of Section 23 of the Act of 1989 and published in the Indian Gazette on 31st March 1995. Under Rule 7 of the Rules, only police personnel with the level of Deputy Superintendent of Police are authorized to conduct an investigation into a crime punishable under the 1989 Act.
The Act is a positive step in implementing the rights provided by Article 15 of the Indian Constitution and other fundamental rights, with the objective of preventing any form of atrocity against people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Though there is no untouchability in the Hindu community against people belonging to Scheduled Tribes and they are not prohibited from entering temples in general, instances do occur, most notably in rural areas, where the upper castes in the Hindu community express reluctance to see them in temples on the basis of their social and economic inferiority. As a result, the Legislature’s objective must be read as preventing such atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes members. The constitutional goal of equality for all the citizens of the country can be achieved only when the rights of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are protected.