Overview of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

21 Jul 2023  Read 3427 Views

The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was enacted in 1989 to prevent atrocities against individuals belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). These communities have faced discrimination and oppression due to their lower social status from time immemorial. The act provides legal protection for these vulnerable sections, out of which Dalits and Adivasis are the most oppressed groups of our society, by criminalising offences committed against them.

In this blog, we will better understand this act and explore its key provisions. 

Important Provisions of SC/ ST Act

The caste system has been deeply ingrained in Indian society for centuries, resulting in discrimination against certain groups based on their birth. This discrimination has led to various forms of violence, exploitation, and denial of basic rights for SCs and STs. This was the main reason that forged the birth of this act. 

Here are some important sections and provisions of this act:

  1. Section 3 of the SC/ST Act defines the term "atrocity" as "any of the following acts that include:

  • Intentionally insulting or intimidating a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe on the ground of his or her social status;

  • Forcing a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe to do any act which he or she is prohibited by his or her religion or social customs from doing.

  • Forcing a member of SC/ST to drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance.

  • Subjecting a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe to cruelty or humiliation on account of his or her caste;

  • wrongfully dispossessing a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe of any land or other property;

  • Defiling a place of worship dedicated to a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe;

  • Denying the use of any well, spring, tank, bathing ghat, road, or place of public resort to a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe;

  1. Section 7: This section provides for the forfeiture of property of persons convicted of offences under the SC/ST Act. This means that if a person is convicted of an offence under the Act, their property can be forfeited to the government. This provision is important because it seeks to deter people from committing offences against SCs and STs.

  2. Section 14: This section provides for the establishment of Special Courts to try offences under the SC/ST Act. Special Courts are courts that are specifically dedicated to trying offences under the Act. This provision is important because it seeks to ensure that offences under the Act are tried speedily and effectively.

  3. Section 10: This section provides for the protection of witnesses in cases under the SC/ST Act. This means that witnesses in cases under the Act are entitled to certain protections, such as protection from intimidation and violence. This provision is important because it seeks to ensure that witnesses are able to come forward and testify in cases under the Act without fear of reprisal.

  • Section 10(1): This section provides for the appointment of officers to investigate cases under the SC/ST Act. These officers are responsible for investigating cases under the Act and collecting evidence. This provision is important because it seeks to ensure that cases under the Act are investigated properly and that the evidence is properly collected.

  1. Section 18: This section provides for the punishment for abetment of offences under the SC/ST Act. This means that a person can be punished for abetting an offence under the Act, even if they did not actually commit the offence themselves. This provision is important because it seeks to deter people from abetting offences against SCs and STs.

  2. Section 21: This section provides for the appeal against orders passed by Special Courts under the SC/ST Act. This means that a person who a Special Court convict can appeal their conviction to a higher court. This provision is important because it seeks to ensure that the rights of the accused are protected.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995

Some of the crucial rules enshrined are:

  1. Provision for relief and rehabilitation norms for the affected communities.

  2. As per Rule 3, the State Governments are empowered to take preventive and precautionary measures for crimes against SCs and STc.

  3. As per Rule 7, an officer at the DSP level is empowered to investigate offenses under the Act and such investigation is to be completed within 30 days

  4. As per Rule 12, the victims of atrocities shall be provided immediate relief as per the prescribed norms.

Recent Amendment to SC/ ST Act

The most recent amendment was done in 2015, i.e. The Prevention of Atrocities (Amendment) Act, 2015, an important piece of legislation that expands the scope of protection for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) in India. 

Following is a list of new offences that have been added:

  • Tonsuring of the head, moustache, or similar derogatory acts.

  • Denying access to irrigation facilities or forest rights.

  • Disposing or carrying human or animal carcasses or digging graves.

  • Using or permitting manual scavenging.

  • Dedicating a woman as Devadasi.

  • Abusing in caste name.

  • Perpetrating witchcraft atrocities.

  • Imposing social or economic boycotts.

  • Preventing SC/ST candidates from filing nominations for elections.

  • Evicting SC/ST women from their homes or residences.

  • Defiling objects sacred to SC/ST members.

  • Touching or using words, acts, or gestures of a sexual nature against SC/ST members.

Apart from these additions, the  following are some crucial changes made:

  • Courts are empowered to take direct cognizance of offences and aim to complete trials within two months of filing the charge sheet.

  • This amendment creates special courts that are specifically dedicated to hearing cases of discrimination against SC/ST people.

  • Clearly defines the term "wilful negligence" for public servants at all levels.

  • The Presumption that the accused is acquainted with the victim or family has knowledge of the victim's caste or tribal identity unless proven otherwise.

The amendment is intended to address the ongoing problem of caste-based discrimination in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were over 44,000 cases of atrocities against SC/ST people reported in 2017. The amendment is designed to make it easier to prosecute these cases and to ensure that victims receive justice

Case Laws on SC/ ST Act

  • In the case of Sri Ghulam Mustafa Vs Union of India (2023), Supreme Court quashed an FIR registered against the MD of GM Infinite Dwelling (India) Private Limited (GMID) and others under The SC/ST Act. The Court held that the FIR was registered in a mala fide manner and the police authorities had not been careful before invoking the provisions of the SC/ST Act and thus need to be more vigilant regarding these laws.

  • In the case of Prathvi Raj Chauhan Vs. Union of India (2020), Supreme Court of India held that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is constitutionally valid. The case arose from a challenge to the Act by Prathvi Raj Chauhan, who was convicted of an offence under the Act and was thus challenging the validity of Section 18-A. Chauhan argued that the Act was unconstitutional because it violated his fundamental rights to equality and freedom of speech under Articles 15 & 19, respectively.

Quick trick question for you, Out of all the rights, which right empowers us to extinguish the fire of untouchability? Do let us know in the comment section below! 

  • In the case of Shailesh Kumar v. State of Karnataka (2023), the Karnataka High Court ruled that a person cannot be convicted under Section 3 of the SC/ST Act if they simply mention the caste of the victim unless there is evidence of an intention to insult or humiliate the victim based on their community affiliation. The court emphasized that the mere mention of the victim's caste does not automatically constitute an offence unless it is accompanied by an intention to demean or degrade the person based on their caste identity.

"We conclude with a pious hope that a day would come, as expected by the framers of the Constitution when we do not require any such legislation like the Act of 1989, and there is no need to provide for any reservation to SCs/STs/OBCs, and only one class of human exist equal in all respects, and no caste system or class of SCs/STs or OBCs exist, all citizens are emancipated and become equal as per Constitutional goal,"

-Supreme Court in the case of Prathvi Raj Chauhan Vs. Union of India (2020)

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is a significant legislation that protects individuals coming from vulnerable sections of society. The law safeguards their interests and offers them protection from the humiliation and ill-treatment their ancestors faced. The recent amendment in 2015 further strengthens the act by adding new offences and introducing measures for speedy trials. However, it is essential to enhance awareness and implementation of the act through educational initiatives, community outreach programs, and recognition of the importance of upholding equality so that one day rather than abolishing untouchability,we abolish these laws.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. What is the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989?

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is a legislation enacted to prevent atrocities against individuals belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in India. It aims to provide legal protection and address discrimination and violence these marginalised communities face.

  1. How does the act provide protection for witnesses?

Section 10 of the SC/ST Act protects witnesses in cases under the Act. This means that witnesses are entitled to certain safeguards, such as protection from intimidation and violence. The provision aims to encourage witnesses to come forward and testify without fear of reprisal, ensuring their safety during the legal proceedings.

  1. Which article of our constitution offers protection against untouchability?

Article 17 of the Indian Constitution offers protection against untouchability. It explicitly prohibits the practice of untouchability in any form and declares it to be an offence punishable by law. The article emphasizes the fundamental principle of equality and ensures that no citizen shall be subjected to discrimination based on their caste or social status.

  1. What is the significance of the recent amendment to the act?

The recent amendment made in 2015 to the SC/ST Act introduced new offences and brought important changes. It aimed to strengthen the legislation by creating special courts, defining the term "wilful negligence" for public servants, and ensuring trials were completed within two months of filing the charge sheet. The amendment aimed to address the persistent issue of caste-based discrimination and facilitate the prosecution of cases, ensuring justice for victims.

About the Author: Devansh Dixit | 35 Post(s)

Devansh is a 4th-year law student from Amity Law School Noida (Uttar Pradesh), currently interning at Finology Legal. He is specialising in business and commercial laws. 

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