Insulting Or Abusing SC-ST Person Within Four Walls Of A House Is Not An Offence Under SC-ST Act: Supreme Court

It is quite significant to note that the Supreme Court in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled Hitesh Verma vs State of Uttarakhand in Criminal Appeal No. 707 of 2020 (Arising out of SLP (Criminal) No. 3585 of 2020 delivered as recently as on November 5, 2020 has held categorically in clear and certain terms that insult or intimidation of a SC-ST person within the four walls of the building is not an offence under Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. In this notable case, the FIR stated that the accused entered illegally into four walls of the victim’s building and started hurling abuses and give death threats and used castes remarks/abuses etc. The three Judge Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi was considering an appeal against the Uttarakhand High Court judgment which refused to quash the charge sheet under SC-ST Act.

To start with, the ball in set rolling in para 1 of this notable judgment authored by Justice Hemant Gupta for himself, Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Ajay Rastogi wherein it is put forth that, “The challenge in the present appeal is to an order passed by the High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital on 20.7.2020 whereby the petition filed by the appellant under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (For short, the Code’) for quashing the charge-sheet as well as the summoning order dated 25.6.2020 was dismissed.

While dealing with what is stated in the FIR, the Bench then envisages in para 2 that, “The FIR No. 173 in question was lodged by the respondent No. 2 on 11.12.2019 at 23:24 hours in respect of an incident alleged to have occurred on 10.12.2019 at 10:00 hours against the appellant and others. The FIR was lodged for the offences under Sections 452, 504, 506 and Section 3(1)(x) and 3(1)(e) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (For short, “the Act”). The said FIR, when translated, reads as under:

“Respected SHO with respect of registering of FIR, the complainant is presently resident of Gram New Bajeti Patti Chandak Tehsil & District Pithoragarh. I am constructing my house on my Khet No. 6195, 6196 & 6199 but Banshilal, Pyarelal S/o Late Har Lal, Hitesh Verma S/o Sh. Pyarelal and their Nepali Domestic help Raju from past 6 months are not allowing the applicant to work on her fields. All the above persons used to abuse the applicant, her husband and other family members and use to give death threats and use Caste coloured abuses. On 10.12.2019 at around 10 am, all these persons entered illegally in to four walls of her building and started hurling abuses on myself and my labourers and gave death threats and used castes’ remarks/abuses and took away the construction material such as Cement, Iron, Rod, Bricks. The Applicant is a Scheduled Caste and all of the above person uses castes’ remarks/abuses (used bad language) and said that you are persons of bad caste and that we will not let you live in this mohalla/vicinity. Respect Sir, the applicant and her family has threat to her life from such persons. Thus, it is requested that an FIR may be lodged against such persons and necessary action may be taken against them…….””

As things unfolded, the Bench then points out in para 3 that, “Pursuant to the FIR filed by Respondent No. 2, Police filed a report disclosing offences under Sections 504, 506 IPC and Section 3(1)(x) of the Act, cognizance for the same was taken by the Trial Court on 25.6.2020. It is the said order which was challenged along with the charge-sheet before the High Court, which was unsuccessful.”

To put things in perspective, it is then envisaged in para 14 that, “Another key ingredient of the provision is insult or intimidation in “any place within public view”. What is to be regarded as “place in public view” had come up for consideration before this Court in the judgment reported as Swaran Singh & Ors. V. State Through Standing Counsel & Ors. (2008) 8 SCC 435. The Court had drawn 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 held as under:

“28. It has been alleged in the FIR that Vinod Nagar, the first informant, was insulted by Appellants 2 and 3 (by calling him a “chamar”) when he stood near the car which was parked at the gate of the premises. In our opinion, this was certainly a place within public view, since the gate of a house is certainly a place within public view. It could have been a different matter had the alleged offence been committed inside a building, and also was not in the public view. However, if the 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, the lawn would certainly be a place within the public view. Also, even if the remark is made inside a building, but some members of the public are there (not merely relatives or friends) then also it would be an offence since it is in the public view. We must, therefore, not confuse the expression “place within public view” with the expression “public place”. A place can be a private place but yet within the public view. On the other hand, a public place would ordinarily mean a place which is owned or leased by the Government or the municipality (or other local body) or gaon sabha or an instrumentality of the State, and not by private persons or private bodies.””

Most significantly, the Bench then holds in para 15 that, “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.”

While mentioning another relevant judgment of the Apex Court, the Bench then discloses in para 17 that, “In another judgment reported as Khuman Singh v State of Madhya Pradesh 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1104, this Court held that in a case for applicability of Section 3(2)(v) of the Act, the fact that the deceased belonged to Scheduled Caste would not be enough to inflict enhanced punishment. This Court held that there was nothing to suggest that the offence was committed by the appellant only because the deceased belonged to the Scheduled Caste.”

As it turned out, the Bench then makes it clear in para 18 that, “Therefore, 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. In the present case, the parties are litigating over possession of the land. The allegation of hurling of abuses is against a person who claims title over the property. If such person happens to be a Scheduled Caste, the offence under Section 3(1)(r) of the Act is not made out.”

As a corollary, the Bench then holds in para 24 that, “In view of the above facts, we find that the charges against the appellant under Section 3(1)(r) of the Act are not made out. Consequently, the charge-sheet to that extent is quashed. The appeal is disposed of in the above terms.”

To conclude, the three-Judge Bench of the Apex Court comprising of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Ajay Rastogi have certainly left no doubt whatsoever to make it amply clear in unequivocal terms  that insult or intimidation of a SC-ST person within the four walls of the building is not an offence under Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989! We all can see clearly that relevant judgments have been quoted in this case also as we usually see in others also to substantiate their own judgment most ably! It also made amply clear in this case that all insults or intimidations to a person will not be an offence under the Act unless such insult or intimidation is on account of the victim belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe! There can certainly be no denying or disputing it!

Sanjeev Sirohi

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