Recently, the Uttar Pradesh court acquitted three of the four accused in the high-profile Hathras case.
GS-II: Social Justice (Issues related to Women, Schemes for Vulnerable Sections of the population, Government Interventions and Policies, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of Government Policies)
Dimensions of the Article:
- Background of the Hathras case
- Recent Judgement
- Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST Act or PoA Act)
- Amendment to the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act
- Previous cases of setting aside the PoA Act
Background of the Hathras case:
- It is a horror of the gang rape of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras in 2020. The had succumbed to her injuries as a result of alleged rape.
- While the brutal atrocity shows the grim truth about the unconscionable people, who exist in our society, it was followed by accusation by the family of the victim that they were not allowed by the UP police to participate in late night Cremation.
- The activists, academics and lawyers argued that the sexual violence took place on account of the woman’s gender and caste and that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA Act) must be invoked.
- Despite the passing of stringent laws, the string of cases related to sexual violence and perils to women safety are quite evident in UP and elsewhere.
- The Uttar Pradesh court on Thursday found only the prime accused, Sandeep Sisodia, guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and offences under the SC/ST Act.
- The Court acquitted the three co-accused.
- While the verdict is based on the forensic report that found no evidence of rape, disturbing questions about the case remain unanswered.
- Sadly, the developments around this case only point to the harsh truth that our society not only remains entrenched in a patriarchal and misogynist mindset but also is still yoked to the oppressive caste system, wherein the dominant castes continue to oppress vulnerable communities.
Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST Act or PoA Act)
- The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to prevent atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
- The Act is popularly known as the SC/ST Act, POA, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or simply the Atrocities Act.
- It was enacted when the provisions of the existing laws (such as the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 and Indian Penal Code) were found to be inadequate to check these crimes (defined as ‘atrocities’ in the Act).
The salient features of the SC/ST Act are
- Creation of new types of offences not in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or in the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 (PCRA).
- Commission of offences only by specified persons (atrocities can be committed only by non-SCs and non-STs on members of the SC or ST communities. Crimes among SCs and STs or between STs and SCs do not come under the purview of this Act).
- Defines various types of atrocities against SCs/STs (Section 3(1)i to xv and 3(2)i to vii).
- Prescribes stringent punishment for such atrocities (Section 3(1)i to xv and 3(2)i to vii).
- Enhanced punishment for some offences (Section 3(2)i to vii, 5).
- Enhanced minimum punishment for public servants (Section 3(2)vii).
- Punishment for neglect of duties by a public servant(Section 4).
- Attachment and forfeiture of property (Section 7).
- Externment of potential offenders (Section 10(1), 10(3), 10(3)).
- Creation of Special Courts (Section 14).
- Denial of anticipatory bail (Section 18).
- Denial of probation to convict (Section 19).
Amendment to the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act
- Delineates specific crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as atrocities and describes strategies and prescribes punishments to counter these acts.
- Identifies what acts constitute “atrocities” and all offences listed in the Act are cognizable. The police can arrest the offender without a warrant and start an investigation into the case without taking any orders from the court.
- The Act calls upon all the states to convert an existing sessions court in each district into a Special Court to try cases registered under it and provides for the appointment of Public Prosecutors/Special Public Prosecutors for conducting cases in special courts.
- Creates provisions for states to declare areas with high levels of caste violence to be “atrocity-prone” and to appoint qualified officers to monitor and maintain law and order.
- Provides for the punishment for wilful neglect of duties by non-SC/ST public servants.
- It is implemented by the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations, which are provided due central assistance.
Previous cases of setting aside the PoA Act
- In cases of sexual violence against Dalit and Adivasi women, courts have almost consistently set aside convictions under the PoA Act.
- In 2006 in Ramdas and Others v. State of Maharashtra, where a Dalit minor girl was raped, the Supreme Court set aside the conviction under the PoA Act stating that the mere fact that the victim happened to be a woman who was member of an SC community would not attract the PoA Act.
- In Dinesh Alias Buddha v. State of Rajasthan (2006), the Supreme Court held: “It is not case of the prosecution that the rape was committed on the victim since she was a member of Scheduled Caste.”
- In Asharfi v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2017), the court held that the evidence and materials on record did not show that the appellant had committed rape on the ground that the victim was member of an SC community.
- In 2019, in Khuman Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh, a case of murder, again the court held that the fact that the deceased was a member of an SC community was not disputed but there was no evidence to show that the offence was committed only on that ground; conviction under the PoA Act was set aside.