Whether Insult or Intimidation of an SC/ST Person within the Four Walls of the Building an Offence under SC/ST Act, 1989?

No, insult or intimidation of an SC/ST person within the four walls of the building is not an offence under SC/ST Act, 1989 (Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989).

In a significant judgment of HITESH VERMA vs. STATE OF UTTARAKHAND [CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 707 OF 2020] the bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi of the Apex Court has pronounced that insult or intimidation of an SC/ST person within the four walls of the building is not an offence under SC/ST Act, 1989.

The court observed that the basic ingredients of the offence under Section 3(1) (r) is

1) Intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe and

2) In any place within public view.

The Court referred to the case of Swaran Singh & Ors. v. State (2008) 8 SCC 435,  the Court, in this case, had drawn a distinction between the expression “public place” and “in any place within public view”. It was held that if an offence is committed outside the building e.g. in a lawn outside a house, and the lawn can be seen by someone from the road or lane outside the boundary wall, then the lawn would certainly be a place within the public view. On the contrary, if the remark is made inside a building, but some members of the public are there (not merely relatives or friends) then it would not be an offence since it is not in the public view.

The Court thus observed that:

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As per the FIR, the allegations of abusing the informant were within the four walls of her building. It is not the case of the informant that there was any member of the public (not merely relatives or friends) at the time of the incident in the house. Therefore, the basic ingredient that the words were uttered “in any place within public view” is not made out. In the list of witnesses appended to the charge-sheet, certain witnesses are named but it could not be said that those were the persons present within the four walls of the building. The offence is alleged to have taken place within the four walls of the building. Therefore, in view of the judgment of this Court in Swaran Singh, it cannot be said to be a place within public view as none was said to be present within the four walls of the building as per the FIR and/or charge-sheet.

The Court added that the offence under the Act is not established merely on the fact that the informant is a member of Scheduled Caste unless there is an intention to humiliate a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe for the reason that the victim belongs to such caste. All insults or intimidations to a person will not be an offence under the Act unless such insult or intimidation is on account of victim belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.

Also Read: History and evolution of SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act

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