Mere Use Of Word ‘Harijan’ During Speech Not An Offence Under SC-ST Act: Orissa High Court

“It is found that the petitioner had not uttered word “Harijan” intentionally to insult anybody including informant” Quashing a criminal case against Former Odisha Minister, the Orissa High Court observed that mere use of the word ‘Harijan’ during the course of the speech, without intention to insult anybody, does not fall within the limit of offence under section 3(1)(x) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,1989. A complaint was filed against Damodar Rout, for making these remarks in the speech he made in the year 2010: “Now our A.D.M. is one Harijan. The MLA, Jagatsinghpur is one Harijan and our M.P. Bibhu Tarai has entered his name in Harijan List. They have joined against me.”

Justice AK Mishra observed that If the words are innocents in themselves and not intended derogatory to the named persons in the F.I.R., no third person can cast a meaning on it to bring within compartment of insult, intimidation and humiliation because he belongs to the same caste or class. Quashing the criminal proceedings, the court said:

“Words are innocents, they are vehicles of thought. A word may mean one thing in one context and another thing in another context. The speech alleged to have been made in the case at hand was extempore. In determining whether the unguarded words uttered by the petitioner had beyond the standard of the everyday believe and the habit, one should read the whole F.I.R. In doing so, it is found that the petitioner had not uttered word “Harijan” intentionally to insult anybody including informant. There is no need to mark the content of the F.I.R. by unvarying or a rigid line. It is enough to indicate that the word “Harijan” does not fall within the limit of offence under section 3(1)(x) of the SC/ST Act in the context it was used in course of a speech. ” The Prosecution had relied on a Government notification to contend that “the Government has issued direction, to ensure the non-use of the word “Harijan” not only in caste certificates but also otherwise.” The court observed that the said notification was meant for official communication and transaction.