Only caste barbs in public an offence: SC
New Delhi, March 31: The Supreme Court has said that disparaging remarks made about a person’s caste in his absence and in close confines of a home or room will not amount to an offence under the SC/ST act.
Under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, only an accused who intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe in any place “within public view” is liable for prosecution, the court said.
A bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma delivered the judgment while quashing a case under the act against a private school headmistress accused of insulting a neighbour over his caste at his home while he himself was away.
The court made it clear in its ruling on Tuesday that such remarks would have to be necessarily made in the person’s presence “in any place within public view”.
Asmathunissa and her husband Samiduddin, who ran the Little Star School in Hyderabad’s upscale Gayatri Hills area, had barged into the house of a local resident who had complained of noise pollution caused by their institution.
The couple allegedly referred in derogatory terms to his caste while threatening his wife Sridevi, according to the police complaint filed by the victims.
Asmathunissa and her husband were then charged under different sections of the SC/ST Act.
They moved Andhra Pradesh High Court seeking to quash the complaint but their plea was turned down. Asmathunissa and her husband then appealed the order.
In the apex court, their lawyer argued that Asmathunissa had never uttered the offending words, which were spoken by her husband and she was merely accompanying him.
The lawyer then contended that in Samiduddin’s case, even if he did utter the offending words, Sridevi’s husband, the object of the remarks, was not at home.
“In the absence of the aggrieved person present at that point of time, no offence can be made out against the appellant (Samiduddin),” the lawyer said.
He then made the second key point, saying the entire incident took place at Sridevi’s residence and not in any place in public. “None of the ingredients of this offence are present in the case. Even if the contents of the complaint in its entirety are taken as correct and true, no offence is made out against the appellant,” the lawyer said.
The apex court accepted the arguments and quashed the complaint. The bench quoted an earlier judgement in this context which said that dumping excreta, waste matter, carcasses or any other obnoxious substance in the premises or neighbourhood of a person from a lower caste need not necessarily be done in his presence to be treated as an insult.