The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

The SC & ST Act, 1989 (Prevention of Atrocities)

The parliament of India enacted the act to prevent atrocities and prohibit offences against Scheduled castes and scheduled Tribes and established special courts for the trial of such offences and rehabilitation of victims.

  • Meaning of Atrocity: An atrocity is a crime against the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe, listed in section 3 of this Act. Under this act, the term Atrocities is defined as being forced to:
  1. Eat or drink something offensive
  2. Parading a person naked
  3. Sexually assaulting a woman
  4. Compel or forced to leave house or village.
  5. Those mentioned above are termed atrocities only when committed by non-SC/ST members against SC/ST persons.
  • Cognisable and Non-bailable offences: The offences registered under this act are cognisable offences (arrest without a warrant or prior permission of the court) and non-bailable offences (offences under which bail can be denied)
  • Punishment: the punishment can range from a minimum of six months to five years.
  • If any public officials fail to uphold the act or neglect its implementation, then punitive action can be taken against them, including a jail term of up to one year.

What are Scheduled Tribes?

Under Article 366, the Constitution prescribes that scheduled Tribes are such Tribes or tribal communities as are given under Article 342.

Article 342: The President, with the consultation of the Governor of the State, may specify the tribes or tribal communities or any part of or groups within tribes or tribal communities as a scheduled Tribe.

  • Parliament may, by law, include or exclude scheduled tribes from the list of Scheduled Tribes.
  • Over 700 tribes have been notified under Article 342 of the Constitution of India. It spread over different States and Union Territories of the country.
  • The largest number of tribal communities (62) has been specified in the State of Orissa. The Scheduled Tribes have been identified in all the States and Union Territories except Punjab, Chandigarh, Haryana, Delhi, and Pondicherry.

The Lokur committee (1965) gave the following criteria for the recognition of any community as Scheduled Tribes:

1.    Indication of Primitive Traits

2.    Distinctive culture

3.    Geographical Isolation

4.    The shyness of contact with the community at large

5.    Backwardness.

However, the above criteria are not mentioned in the Constitution.

 The Scheduled castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015:

The scheduled castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which was amended in 2015, provides more stringent provisions to prevent casteist slurs against the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes.

The following are the key features of the act:

  • Added new categories of offences: the amendment act amends specific existing categories and adds specific new categories of action to be treated as atrocities, such as
  1. Tonsuring of the head, moustache,
  2. Garlanding SCs or STs with chappals
  3. Denial of irrigation facilities and forest rights
  4. Compelling them to do manual scavenging, dispose of or carry animal carcasses, or dig graves
  5. Imposing social and economic boycott
  6. Preventing them from filing nominations for elections
  7. Using acts, words or gestures of a sexual nature.
  8. Wrongfully occupying land belonging to the SCs or STs
  9. Dispossessing them of their land is an offence under the amendment.
  • Sexually exploiting an SC or ST woman as an offence: It added
    1. Intentionally touching a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe woman sexually without her consent
    2. Using words, acts or gestures that are of a sexual nature
    3. Dedicating an SC or ST woman as a devadasi to a temple or practice similar to this.
  • Establishment of special courts: This act led to the establishment of exclusive special courts along with the specification of Exclusive Special Public prosecutors to try offences under the act to enable speedy and expeditious disposal of cases.
  • Rights of Victims and witnesses: it shall be the duty of the state to arrange the protection of the rights of victims and witnesses.
  • Addition of the presumption of the offences: The court will presume that the accused was aware of the victim’s caste or tribal identity if the accused had personal knowledge of the victim or his family unless the contrary is proved.
  • Additional offences, such as hurt, intimidation, kidnapping, etc., attracting less than 10 years of imprisonment, committed against members of scheduled caste/scheduled tribes, are punishable offences under the act.

The Supreme Court passed a judgement in March 2018:

Two judge bench has directed that:

  1. There would be no immediate arrest on a complaint filed, and prior approval of the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) will be required before the arrest.
  2. A DSP rank officer may conduct the preliminary inquiry to verify whether the allegation made qualifies for the case under the act or not and whether the allegation is frivolous.
  3. The court can grant anticipatory bail if it, prima facia, found abuse of the law.

The scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018:

To neutralise the above verdict, the parliament passed the Scheduled caste and the Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018.

  1. The amendment restored immediate arrest and stated that no preliminary inquiry or prior approval is required to file an FIR in case of atrocities on SC and ST acts.
  2. It also Banned anticipatory bail of the accused under the law.

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