The Punjab and Haryana High Court has recently ruled that making a casteist remark during a phone call, away from public view, does not constitute an offense under the SC/ST Act, citing that the ingredient of the insult being in ‘public place and within public view’ would be absent.
The bench headed by Justice Harnaresh Singh Gill passed an order vide dated 14th May, on a plea challenging the framing of charges for criminal intimidation and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, against two persons from Kurukshetra who allegedly made casteist remarks over the mobile phone against their village head.
The two men were accused of having intimidated a village sarpanch, who belonged to a scheduled caste, over the phone and by making casteist remarks. The trial court found that a prima facie offense had been made out and framed charges for the same which was challenged before the Punjab and Haryana High Court
“To constitute the offense under the Act, it must be alleged that the accused intentionally insulted or intimidated with an intention to humiliate a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe in any public place within public view. In the present case, it is alleged that the offense has been committed by the petitioners by using the caste-based remarks over a mobile phone call to the informant, or a member of Scheduled Castes, of which there are no records,” observed the bench.
The court observed that mere uttering such wrong words in the absence of any public view does not show any intention or mens rea (the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime) to humiliate the complainant who besides being Sarpanch, belongs to Scheduled Caste community.
As per sources, an FIR was registered in October 2017, based on a complaint of village head Rajinder Kumar, under the provisions of the IPC and SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, in which the complainant alleged that Sandeep Kumar and Pardeep, the petitioners, allegedly used casteist slurs against him during a conversation on a mobile phone. Later, a charge sheet against the two accused was submitted after which a court in Kurukshetra ordered the framing of charges against them a year ago.
The accused then moved to the Punjab and Haryana High Court challenging the trial court’s order.
Subsequently, the High Court observed that “The penal provisions are to be given a “strict construction” and if any of the ingredients are found lacking, it would not constitute an offense under the SC/ST Act,” while adding that “Since these are the penal provisions, the same is to be given a strict construction and if any of the ingredients are found lacking, it would not constitute the offense under the SC/ST Act.”
In this backdrop, the Court went on to find that that the prosecution has failed to make out a prima facie case for the commission of an offense punishable under Section 3 of the SC/ST Act and had set aside the trial court’s order as well as the FIR itself.