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SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989: A Shield for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe

India is a rapidly growing country where different caste lives with harmony and peace. Among all the communities, Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe are the most progressive, and they get ample opportunities in different fields.

Unfortunately, there are times when Schedule caste and Schedule Tribe are discriminated against and exploited. So, to protect them, the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, was enacted.

The Act helped prevent offences against the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe. The SC/ ST Act is the cure and the cause of many problems, as the SCs and STs take advantage of their rights.

SC/ST Act, 1989

SC/ST Act, 1989, enacted to prohibit discrimination against a member of SC and ST communities, prevents atrocities against both communities. The inadequacy of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Civil Rights Act to curb the crimes against SC and ST communities led to the SC/ST act.

The Schedule Caste and the Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, got enacted on 9th September 1989 and implemented in the whole of India to promote the inclusion of the Dalits in society.

The objective of the SC/ ST Act, 1989

  • Improve the socio-economic conditions of the scheduled caste and tribe.
  • Curb offences related to ill behaviour against SCs and STs.
  • Curb denial of economic, democratic and social rights to SCs and STs.
  • Protect the SC and ST community from a social disabilities like denying access to certain places.
  • Protect the communities from personal atrocities like forceful drinking, eating inedible food, injury, sexual exploitation.
  • Help SC and ST communities to remain devoid of malicious prosecution, economic exploitation and political disabilities.
  • Deliver justice through proactive efforts, giving them dignified life and eradicating suppression from the dominant caste.

Salient Features of the SC/ST Act

  • The Act created new types of offences lacking in the Indian Penal Code or the Protection of Civil Rights, 1955.
  • Commission of Offences only by a specified person.
  • Provides different types of atrocities against Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes
  • Prescribes strict punishment for atrocities
  • Enhances the quality of punishment for offences
  • Enhances minimum punishment for the public servant
  • Provides a penalty for the delinquency of duties by a public servant
  • Provides provisions for attachment and forfeiture of property
  • Provides provision for the appointment of a Special Public Prosecutor
  • Empowers the government to impose collective fines

Meaning and definition of Atrocities

In India, atrocity is a term used to refer to the crime against the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes.

The parliamentary committee on the welfare of the SC and ST, in its 4th report, mentioned ‘the word atrocity denotes the quality of being cruel and inhumane, whereas the term crime is related to the act punishable by law.

The term ‘atrocity’ defined under Section 2(1)(a) of the SC/ST Act, 1989, means an offence punishable under section 3.

Offences and punishments that come under atrocities

Offences

Section 3 of the SC/ ST Act, 1989 provides punishment for offences and atrocities.

As per the provision of this section, a person who is not a member of a scheduled caste or tribe does any act against the member of the scheduled caste or tribe provided under this section is considered to have committed an atrocities offence.

The following acts are offences of atrocities if done against the member of the SC-ST:

  • Force to eat or drink uneatable substance: Putting an inedible or obnoxious substance in the mouth of a member of the SC or ST community by force.
  • Cause annoyance, injury or insult: Dumping excreta, sewage or any other obnoxious in the premises or premises entrance occupied by the member of the SC or ST community
  • Cause annoyance, injury or insult in the neighbourhood: Causing injury, insult, or annoy any member of the SC or ST by dumping excreta or any other obnoxious substance in the neighbourhood of the member of the SC or ST community
  • Parade: Putting a garland with footwear or parading naked or semi-naked a member of the SC or ST community
  • Removal of clothes or any other form of torture: Forcing a member of the SC or ST community to remove clothes, tonsure head, removes moustache, paints face or body or doing anything that derogates human dignity
  • Wrongfully occupying land: Wrongfully occupying or cultivating the land owned by the SC or ST community member or in possession or land transferred belonging to the SC or ST community.
  • Removal from land: Wrongfully dispossessing a member of the SC/ST from his land or premises or interfering with the enjoyment of his rights, including:
    • forest rights over any land
    • premises or water
    • irrigation facilities
    • destroying the crop
    • taking away the produce from them.
  • Forceful begar: Forcing the member of the SC or ST community to beg or any other form of forced or bonded labour excluding compulsory service for a public purpose imposed by the Government
  • Forceful carrying a corpus: Compelling a member of the SC or ST community to dispose or carry a corpus of human or animal or dig a grave
  • Manual scavenging: Making a member of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe do manual scavenging or employee, such member, for doing manual scavenging.
  • Forced women to be a ‘devadasi’: Forcing women of the dedicated Schedule Caste or Schedule Tribe Community to be a deity, idol or object of worship.
  • Infringe rights: Intimidating or preventing members of Schedule caste or Schedule tribe from freely voting, filing nominations or proposing a second nomination in any election.
  • Obstruct from performing duties: Obstructing a person of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe from performing nominal duties and functions if the member is the chairperson or the panchayat member.
  • Obstructing from availing benefits: Causing hurt or grievous hurt or threatens the person from availing public service benefits after poll.
  • Institution of Malicious Suit: Instituting a false or malicious suit or criminal proceeding against a Schedule Caste or Schedule Tribe member.
  • False Information: Giving false information to a public servant, causing a public servant to use lawful power to injure or annoy a member of Schedule caste or Schedule tribe.
  • Insult: Intentionally insulting or humiliating a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe in any public place.
  • Abuse: Abusing a member of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe by the name of the caste in a public place.
  • Destroying Sacred Object: Destroying, damaging or causing any harm to the sacred object of the Scheduled Caste or Schedule Tribe.
  • Promoting hatred feelings: Promoting hatred feelings by words, either written or spoken or by signs or visible representation to promote a feeling of enmity, hatred or ill-will against the member of the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe.
  • Disrespect: Disrespecting any member of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe by spoken or written words to a dead person with high esteem.
  • Sexual Act: Intentionally touching a woman or using words, gestures or acts of a sexual nature without her consent when she belongs to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe
  • Denial of Customary right: Denial of a customary right of passage to the public place or obstruct the member to prevent him from using a public place.
  • Removal from the house: Forceful removal from house, residence or village of a member of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe

Punishment for the offences

All the offence mentioned in the SC/ ST Act is cognisable offences. Thus, the police have the right to arrest an offender without a warrant. The investigation in such a case can begin without prior orders from the court.

The Act prescribes both minimum and maximum punishments for the offences provided by the act.

  • The minimum punishment for most cases is six months, and
  • the maximum punishment is five years with a fine.
  • However, there are cases where the minimum punishment gets extended to one year, and the maximum sentence can be life imprisonment or death.

Punishment for a subsequent conviction

After the conviction of an offence for a second or subsequent conviction, the punishment is imprisonment for a minimum of one year. It can extend to the punishment as provided for the offence under the SC/ST Act.

Punishment for neglect of duties

As per Section 4 of the Act, a public servant who is not a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe member neglects his duty should be punishable with imprisonment of not less than six months which may extend to one year.

Duties of Public Servant as prescribed under the SC/ST Act are:

  • To read the given information orally and reduce it to writing by the officer in charge of the police station before taking the informant’s signature.
  • To register a complaint or First Information Report under the SC/ ST Act and other relevant provisions and to register under the appropriate sections.
  • To furnish a copy of the information recorded by the officers.
  • To record victims’ statements.
  • To conduct an investigation.
  • To correctly prepare, frame and translate an electronic recorded document.
  • To perform the duty specified in the Act.

Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts

To provide speedy trials, the state government, after consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court, should establish a Special Court. Following the special court, there must be Exclusive Special Courts for one or more Districts.

The Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts under Section 14 of the SC/ ST Act have the jurisdiction to try the cases under the Act.

In every trial, the proceedings should continue from day to day till the witnesses are examined. If the court adjourns the case beyond the following day, he should record the reason in writing.

Special Public Prosecutor and Exclusive Public Prosecutor

According to Section 15 of the SC/ ST Act, 1989, the State Government should specify a Special Public Prosecutor for every Special Court or an advocate. The person appointed as a Special Public Prosecutor should be in practice for not less than seven years.

Further, for Exclusive Special Courts, the state government should appoint an Exclusive Special Public Prosecutor or an advocate as an exclusive Special Public Prosecutor to conduct cases in the court. However, the advocate should be practising for not less than seven years.

Conclusion

The SC/ST Act got enacted to strengthen the considerably weaker sections of society. It covers all the aspects that help and empowers the SC and ST communities.

The Act covers the provision that makes certain actions done by members of any other community against the member of the SC/ ST community an offence. It also provides the punishment for such an offence and covers the provisions providing the rights to the victims and witnesses. Other than this, what makes an SC/ST Act special is the establishment of the Special Court and Exclusive Special Court. The establishment of the special courts has made it easy for the SC and ST community members to get Justice.

FAQs

What does 'Atrocity' mean?

Atrocity means an offence punishable under section 3 of the SC/ST Act, 1989.

What is the punishment provided for subsequent conviction?

For Subsequent conviction, the person shall be punishable with imprisonment of a minimum of one year, which may extend to the punishment provided for that offence.

Can the property be forfeited as per the provision of the SC/ST Act?

Yes, as per Section 7, the property of certain persons can get forfeited.

Under which section is Special Court and Exclusive Special Court get established?

The Special Court and Exclusive Special Courts get established under Section 14 of the SC/ ST Act, 1989.

About Author

Anshita Surana, born in the year 1999 in Guwahati, Assam and brought up in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan, where I completed my elementary and secondary education from the CBSE board.

Currently, Pursuing B.B.A.LL.B(H) from K. R. Mangalam University, Gurugram.

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