The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989; Important Questions

 

  •  What does this law do?

This law does three things:

  • It punishes crimes against people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
  • It gives special protections and rights to victims.
  • It sets up courts for fast completion of cases.

  • What sorts of crimes are punished?
  • Some crimes under the IPC are given increased punishments under this law.
  • Cruel and degrading crimes that occur very often against SC/ST communities, such as forcing them to eat cowdung, boycotting them socially etc. More than 20 such acts are punished under this law.

  • Do you have to have a caste-based intention to be punished under this law?

That is, do you have to commit the crime because someone belongs to an SC/ST?

  • In most cases, a caste-based intention does not have to be proved. That is, it does not have to be proved that the accused person committed the crime for the reason that the victim belonged to a Scheduled Caste or Tribe. Only for three crimes, intention has to established.

  • Who does this law apply to?
  • This law applies to every person in India, except in Jammu and Kashmir.

  • What is an atrocity?

A long list of actions is provided in Section 3. If any of these actions are committed against a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST), it is an atrocity which is punished under this law.These actions include forcing an SC/ST member to eat a noxious substance, forcing her to vote in a certain way, or taking away her land by force.


  • Who is a dependent?

This law directs the government to help victims of atrocities and their dependents in various ways. Dependents are family members of the victim, who receive support from her.


  • What is economic boycott?

Economic boycott is if someone refuses to enter into business relations with a SC/ST member. This includes:

  • Refusing to work with or refuse to hire an SC/ST member.
  • Refusing to either provide a service to an SC/ST member, or not engaging her to perform a service.
  • Changing the way a certain business transaction is normally done, because the person is an SC/ST member.

  • What are forest rights?

In the Forest Rights Act, there is a list of 13 rights that all forest-dwellers enjoy, including the right to live in the forest, access common resources etc.


  • Who is a ‘manual scavenger’?

The Manual Scavengers Act, 2013 defines a manual scavenger as someone who manually handling human excreta from latrines, open drains or other open spaces.


  • Who is a public servant?
  • The Indian Penal Code has a long list of persons who are public servants, such as people in government service, judges and military officers.
  • If a person is called a public service in any other law, she will be considered a public servant under this law as well.
  • If a person is acting in any official capacity under the Central or State Government, she will be a public servant under this law.

  • What is a Scheduled Caste and a Scheduled Tribe?

According to the Constitution, the President issues a list of castes that are considered Scheduled Castes, for each state. This is done in consultation with the Governor of the state. A similar procedure is followed for Scheduled Tribes.


  • What is social boycott?

Social boycott is when someone refuses to enter into a normal social interaction with a person, and tries to keep her separate from other groups.


  • Who is a victim?

A victim is an SC/ST member who has suffered any kind of harm because of a crime committed under this Act. The harm can be mental or psychological as well as any kind of physical harm or loss of money. The relatives of such a victim are also considered to be victims under this law.


  • Who is a witness?

If you know something about a crime that has been committed under this law, you are a witness. You might be required to give evidence before the police or in court.


  • Application of laws:

Not all laws apply to all areas within India.

If… But… Then…
…this Act mentions a certain law …that law does not apply in a particular area …a similar law in force in that area will be applied instead

  • What are the crimes under this law?
  • Section 3 punishes certain crimes against SC/ST members, which are listed below.
  • No SC/ST member can be punished under this section.
  • The following crimes have a minimum punishment of 6 months and a maximum of 5 years, plus fine:
It is a crime to force-feed an SC/ST member with any disgusting substance that is not fit for humans to eat, such as cowdung,
It is a crime to dump any disgusting substances (such as the bodies of dead animals, or excreta):

  • Inside or at the gate of a place where SC/ST members live.
  • In a neighbourhood of an SC/ST member, but only if it is done to insult or annoy her in some way.
It is a crime to make an SC/ST member wear a garland of chappals, or make them walk around naked or semi-naked.
It is a crime to force an SC/ST member to do anything which is insulting to the dignity of a human being, such as:

  • making him undress;
  • forcing him to shave his head or his moustache; or
  • forcing him to paint his face.
It is a crime to illegally take over any land that is owned or controlled by, or allotted to any SC/ST member. The takeover is considered illegal if it is done

  • without the agreement of the victim, or
  • by threatening him or someone connected to him, or
  • by making false records.
It is also a crime to similarly illegally deprive an SC/ST member of his property, or to prevent him from exercising his rights over any land. This includes:

  • Blocking an SC/ST member from accessing any forest rights under the Forest Rights Act.
  • Blocking rights to any water source or irrigation source.
  • Destroying or taking away crops.
It is a crime to make an SC/ST member do bonded labour. The exception will be if the government makes some kind of public service compulsory – in that case it will not be a crime.
It is a crime to force a SC/ST member to carry or dispose of a human or animal dead body.
It is crime to force an SC/ST member to do manual scavenging, or employ an SC/ST member to do manual scavenging.
Practices like devadasi are a crime – an SC/ST woman cannot be ‘dedicated’ to any god, idol or temple.
It is a crime to interfere with the voting rights of an SC/ST member.Specifically:

  • An SC/ST member cannot be forced to vote in a certain way.
  • An SC/ST member cannot be stopped from standing for elections.
  • An SC/ST member cannot be stopped from proposing a candidate, or seconding the nomination of another SC/ST candidate.
It is a crime to interfere with the work of an SC/ST member who is a panchayat member or holds office in a municipality. Force or intimidation cannot be used to prevent such a person from doing their work.
It is a crime to either hurt or boycott an SC/ST member.
If you commit a crime against an SC/ST member because she has voted in a certain way, that is punished under this section.
It is a crime to file a false case against an SC/ST member.
It is a crime to give false information to a government official, if it causes the official to harass an SC/ST member.
It is a crime to insult and humiliate an SC/ST member on purpose, if it is done in a place visible to the public.
It is a crime to abuse an SC/ST member using her caste name if it is done in a place visible to the public.
It is a crime to damage any object, such as a statue or picture of Dr. Ambedkar, which is important to members of SCs/STs.
It is a crime to say or publish anything that encourages hatred of SC/ST communities.
It is a crime to say or write anything that insults any late person who is important to the SC/ST community, such as a leader.
It is a crime to sexually touch a woman belonging to a SC/ST without her consent. It is also a crime to sexually harass a SC/ST woman.
If such a crime takes place, the woman’s past history and actions shall not affect the outcome in any way.
It is a crime to spoil any water source that is usually used by SC/ST members.
It is a crime to block an SC/ST member from a public place where she has a right to go.
It is a crime to block an SC/ST member from a public place where she has a right to go.
It is a crime to force an SC/ST member to leave her home, unless it is done legally.
It is a crime to block an SC/ST member from:

  • Using any common public area or resource such as water bodies, taps, wells, cremation grounds etc.
  • Riding a horse or a vehicle or taking out a procession.
  • Entering into a religious place or participating in a religious ceremony, that is open to the public.
  • Entering a public place like a school, hospital or cinema hall.
  • Carrying on any business or job.
It is a crime to accuse an SC/ST member of practicing witchcraft, and hurting them physically or mentally.
It is a crime to make a threat, or to actually practice social or economic boycott.

These are also crimes, but have different punishments:

Crime Jail time Fine
Making a false statement to the police, where:    
  • An SC/ST member is accused of a crime punishable with death
Life imprisonment Yes
  • If the false statement causes the SC/ST member to be given the death penalty
Death sentence  
  • If the SC/ST member is accused of a crime punishable with 7 years or more
Between 6 months and 7 years Yes
Using fire or bombs to    
  • damage property belonging to SC/ST members
6 months to 7 years Yes
  • damage their homes or religious places
Life imprisonment Yes
Committing a crime against an SC/ST member, which is punished under the IPC with ten years or more. Life imprisonment Yes
Committing a crime against an SC/ST member which is listed in Schedule to this Act. As punished under the IPC Yes
Protecting any person who has committed a crime under this Act Same punishment as the crime which the person has committed  
Any crime in this section, but by a government official Minimum of 1 year, not six months.  

  • Can a government official be punished for ignoring his duty?

If a government official (who is not an SC/ST member) ignores his duties under this law on purpose, he can be punished with six months to one year of jail time.An officer can only be charged if there has been an inquiry first that recommends it.These duties include:

  • registering FIRs and complaints;
  • reading out any statement made in a police station before getting a signature;
  • giving copies of the statement to the person giving information;
  • recording what a victim or witness of a crime has to say;
  • investigating and filing the charge-sheet within 60 days of an FIR;
  • preparing and translating documents correctly.

  • What if a person commits the same crime twice?

If someone is found guilty for the second time for the same crime, the minimum punishment shall be 1 year, not six months.


  • Briefly Explain Section 8 – “Presumption as to offences”

This section deals with certain legal assumptions that a court makes. For example, if the accused person personally knows the victim, the court will assume that he also knows the caste or tribe of the victim.


  • Briefly Explain Section 9 – “Conferment of powers”

This section deals with some special administrative powers to enforce this Act.


  • Briefly Explain Section 10 – “Removal of person likely to commit offence”

If the court thinks a person is likely to commit a crime under this law, it can order that the person move out of that area for up to three years. This is called externment.

Example:

Mahesh lives in Muzzafarnagar town, where caste tensions are high. He is from a dominant caste. Safinagar has been notified as an area where atrocities are likely to happen. He makes several threats against his neighbour, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste. Cases have been registered against him. The court, under this law, can order that Mahesh leave Muzzafarnagar for three years.

The court must give reasons why Mahesh has been ordered to leave.

Mahesh comes before the court to explain his situation, within 30 days. The court can decide to cancel the order, or change it.


  • Briefly Explain Section 11 – Procedure on failure of person to remove himself from area and enter thereon after removal”

If Mahesh does not obey the court order, he can be arrested. The punishment is up to 1 year jail time.

If Mahesh obeys the order, the court can allow him come back to Muzzafarnagar for short periods, after signing a bond.

Mahesh can only stay in Muzaffarnagar for the short period mentioned in the order, and must get fresh permission to visit again. If he disobeys he can be arrested.


  • Briefly Explain Section 12 – “Taking measurements and photographs, etc., of persons against whom order under section 10 is made”

The court can order Mahesh to be photographed, and have his measurements taken. If he refuses, he can be forced.

Once an order is cancelled, the photos and other records will have to be destroyed.


  • Briefly Explain Section 13. – “Penalty for non compliance of order under section 10”

If Mahesh disobeys the court order, he can be sent to jail for up to 1 year.


  • Briefly Explain Section 14. Special Court and Exclusive Special Court.—

This chapter of the law deals with setting up of special courts to deal with atrocities cases faster.

  • Every State Government has to set up courts which only deals with atrocities cases under this law.
  • Cases should be completed in 2 months, as far as possible, and hearings shall take place every day when witnesses are speaking.
  • In a district where a lot of atrocities cases happen, a separate court will have to be set up.
  • In districts where cases are not so common, the District Court can hear the case.

  • Explain Section 14 A i.e Appeals with the help of Example

Example:

Satish forces Ravi to eat cowdung. Trial starts against Satish.

If he is given bail, the Government’s lawyer (prosecutor) can appeal against the bail. He does not need special permission from the High Court to do so.

He is found guilty by the Special Court. Satish has to appeal to the High Court within 90 days.

Satish’s mother fell seriously ill and his appeal could not be filed within the deadline. The High Court can still allow him file the appeal, since he had a good reason.

However, if more than 180 days have passed, the appeal will not be allowed.

The High Court should do its best to hear Satish’s appeal within 3 months from when he filed it.


  • What are the rights of a victim or witness according to Section 16 of this law?

Let’s understand these rights with the help of examples.

Ravi has been forced to eat cowdung by Satish. Ravi belongs to a Scheduled Caste. Shruti saw it happen.The government has to arrange for Ravi and Shruti’s protection.
Ravi is 82 years old – the government has a duty to give special care to Ravi.
Ravi and his wife have the right to know what is going on in his case.
Nikhil took a photograph while Ravi was being forced to eat cowdung. Ravi can ask the court to order Nikhil to come to court and submit the photograph.
Ravi can speak in court to the judge if Satish, the accused person:

  • is being released on bail, or
  • is found ‘not guilty’.
Ravi can also speak:

  • when Satish’s jail time is being decided, or
  • when Satish is being released from jail.
During the trial, Ravi, the victim, and Shruti, the witness, have the right to:

  • protection by the government, and
  • be paid by the government for any travel costs, moving costs or cost of living or finding a job.
The court will control what sort of protection is being given to Ravi and Shruti.
Ravi or Shruti can ask the Court to:

  • hide their names and addresses, or
  • take action against any harassment faced by them.
In case of harassment, a case has to be filed and the court has to finish the case in 2 months.
If the police or government official is harassing Ravi or Shruti, the court can order that the official stay away from them.
Ravi and Shruti are still being harassed. The police have the duty to file an FIR and give them a copy.
Any trial under this law has to be video-recorded.
Every State Government has to prepare a scheme for the victims and witnesses of atrocities.
The scheme should take care of the following things:

  • Free copy of FIR, informing victims of their rights, and giving updates on the case;
  • Protection of victims;
  • Money, to be paid immediately to victims or close relatives ;
  • If a victim has died, been hurt or lost property, then money to provide support;
  • Money for food, water, housing, clothing, travel and medical help;
  • Legal support to victims.
Victims like Naveen have the right to get help from lawyers, NGOs and social workers.

  • If an area has high risk of atrocities, what can the government do?

The District Magistrate or Deputy Superintendent can declare that the area is one where atrocities are likely to take place. After that, they can take a wide range of measures to ensure peace and order are maintained. This includes:

  • making people sign bonds for good behavior;
  • breaking up crowds using force; or
  • taking urgent measures under Section 144, Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 to prevent a danger or a nuisance.

  • Can a person fearing arrest under this law get anticipatory bail?

No.


  • Can a person guilty under this law get probation?

Probation is when a guilty person is released instead of being sent to prison, after signing a bond for good behaviour. A person can get probation under general law if certain conditions are met. Under this law, however, probation is not allowed unless the guilty person is less than 18 years old.


  • What are the duties of the Government under this law?

The government has to ensure this law is properly followed. Some of these measures are listed in this section.


IMPORTANT POINTS

Section 15 i.e Special Public Prosecutor and Exclusive Public Prosecutor says The Government’s lawyer, under this law, has to have minimum seven years’ experience.

Section 16 i.e Power of State Government to impose collective fine says State Government can impose a fine on a village as a whole for committing atrocities.

Section 22 i.e Protection of action taken in good faith says that the government cannot be sued for doing anything under this law, as long as there was no bad intention.

Section 23 i.e Power to make rules gives the procedure for making rules under this law.

 

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