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SC cracks whip on caste crime, slander - Police and administration to be held accountable for failure to act

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  • Published 20.04.11

New Delhi, April 19: The Supreme Court today said administrative and police officials would be held accountable if they did not act against caste crimes and slander, picking out the “two-tumbler” system in the south and khap panchayats as two “unacceptable” phenomena that should be stamped out.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words in the American Declaration of Independence that “…all men are created equal”, a Supreme Court bench regretted that over two centuries later, a large section of the Indian society still regard a section of their own fellow citizens as inferior.

“This mental attitude is simply unacceptable in the modern age, and it is one of the main causes holding up the country’s progress,” the bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra said.

The top court made the observations while dealing with an appeal filed by some persons accused of beating up people from the lower castes and hurling slurs at them.

The accused, who belong to the backward Servai caste in Tamil Nadu, had an altercation with members of the Pallan caste, which carries the Scheduled Caste tag, over the method of tying bullocks in Jallikattu, the dangerous race.

The complainants were then abused by their caste name and beaten up mercilessly. The accused were convicted by the trial court as well as the high court, following which the case reached the top court.

The apex court dismissed the appeals against the conviction under the SC/ST Act. “The appellants (accused) have behaved like uncivilised savages, and hence deserve no mercy. With these observations the appeals are dismissed,” it said.“In our opinion, uses of the words ‘pallan, ‘pallapayal’, ‘parayan’ or paraparayan’ with the intent to insult is highly objectionable and is also an offence under the SC/ST Act. It is just unacceptable in the modern age, just as the words ‘nigger’ or ‘negro’ was unacceptable for African-Americans today,” the bench said.

“In the modern age, nobody’s feelings should be hurt. In particular, in a country like India with so much diversity, we must take care not to insult anyone’s feelings on account of his caste, religion, tribe, language, etc. Only then can we keep our country united and strong,” the court added.

Iterating an earlier judgment, the court said that use of the word ‘chamar’ would also be objectionable if used with the intent to hurt or humiliate.

The court decried the “highly objectionable two-tumbler” system prevalent in many parts of Tamil Nadu.

In some tea stalls and restaurants, separate tumblers are set aside for serving tea or other beverages to Scheduled Castes.

“In our opinion, this is highly objectionable, and is an offence under the SC/ST Act, and hence those practising it must be criminally proceeded against and given harsh punishment, if found guilty. All administrative and police officers will be accountable and departmentally proceeded against if, despite having knowledge of any such practice in the area under their jurisdiction, they do not launch criminal proceedings against the culprits,” the bench said.

The court criticised the kangaroo courts in Tamil Nadu, known as katta panchayats, which often decree or encourage honour killings or other atrocities in an institutionalised way. The victims are usually boys and girls of different castes and religions who wish to get married or have been married, and these kangaroo courts interfere with the personal lives of people.

“We are of the opinion that this is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out…. there is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment. Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism and feudal mentality. Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands, and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal.”

The court directed all administrative and police officials to take strong measures to prevent such atrocious acts.

If any such incidents happen, apart from instituting criminal proceedings against those responsible for such atrocities, the court said, state governments should immediately suspend the district magistrate/collector and SSP/SPs and other officials concerned, chargesheet them and proceed against them.

The officials can be held directly or indirectly accountable if they did not prevent the incident despite knowledge of it or, if it has occurred, they did not promptly apprehend the culprits, the judges said.