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S.3(2)(v)SC/ST Act attracts when caste identity is a ground for the occurrence of offence: SC

Under Section 3(2)(v), an enhanced punishment of imprisonment for life with fine is provided where (i) The offence is committed by a person who is not a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe; (ii) The offence arises under the Penal Code and is against a person or property and is punishable with imprisonment for a term of ten years or more; and (iii) The offence is committed “on the ground that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe” or such property belongs to such a person. The key words are “on the ground that such person is a member of a SC or ST”. The expression “on the ground” means “for the reason” or “on the basis of”. (Para.50)

PATAN JAMAL VALI V/S THE STATE OF ANDHRA PRADESH

Criminal Appeal No 452 of 2021 (Arising out of SLP(Crl) No 1795 of 2021)

Decided on April 27th, 2021


A Two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Justice M R Shah heard the appeal of reducing the award of life imprisonment and reviewing the charges under Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 (ST Act).


This appeal arises from a judgment of a Division Bench of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh dated 3 August 2019. The High Court has affirmed the conviction of the appellant for offences punishable under Section 3(2)(v) of the ST Act and Section 376(1) of the Indian Penal Code.


In the present case, several circumstances bearing on the sentence must be borne in mind. First, PW2 (Prosecutrix), who was subjected to a sexual assault was blind since birth. Second, the appellant was known to the brothers of PW2, including PW3. The appellant used to visit the house in which PW2 resided with her parents and brothers. Bereft of eye-sight, PW2 was able to identify the appellant by his voice with which she was familiar. Third, shortly before entering the home of PW2, the appellant enquired of PW1 where her sons were when he was told that they were not at home. PW1 proceeded with her chores at a public water tap. Taking advantage of the absence of the members of the family from the family home, the appellant entered the house and subjected PW2 to a sexual assault. PW1 has deposed that when she entered the house together with PW3, PW4, and PW5 she found PW2 in a nude condition on the ground bleeding from the injuries sustained on her genitals. Nature and circumstances in which the offence has been committed would leave no manner of doubt that the appellant had taken advantage of the position of the PW2 who was blind since birth. He entered the house, familiar as he was with members of the family, in their absence and subjected PW2 to a sexual assault. PW2 belongs to a Scheduled Caste. The prosecution has not led evidence to prove that the offence, as we have noticed, was committed on the ground that she belongs to a Scheduled caste within the meaning of section 3(2)(v) of the SC and ST Act.


Under Section 3(2)(v), an enhanced punishment of imprisonment for life with fine is provided where (i) The offence is committed by a person who is not a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe; (ii) The offence arises under the Penal Code and is against a person or property and is punishable with imprisonment for a term of ten years or more; and (iii) The offence is committed “on the ground that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe” or such property belongs to such a person. The key words are “on the ground that such person is a member of a SC or ST”. The expression “on the ground” means “for the reason” or “on the basis of”. (Para.50)


The Court held that in the absence of evidence to that effect, the offence under Section 3(2)(v) would not stand established. This principle was subsequently followed in a two judge Bench judgment of this Court in Ramdas and Others v. State of Maharashtra 2007) 2 SCC 170 where it was held that merely because a woman belongs to the SC & ST community, the provisions of the SC & ST Act would not be attracted in a case of sexual assault. This Court observed that there was no evidence to prove the commission of offence under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC & ST Act.


The issue as to whether the offence was committed against a person on the ground that such person is a member of a SC or ST or such property belongs to such member is to be established by the prosecution on the basis of the evidence at the trial. We agree with the Sessions Judge that the prosecution’s case would not fail merely because PW1 did not mention in her statement to the police that the offence was committed against her daughter because she was a Scheduled Caste woman. However, there is no separate evidence led by the prosecution to show that the accused committed the offence on the basis of the caste identity of PW2. While it would be reasonable to presume that the accused knew the caste of PW2 since village communities are tightly knit and the accused was also an acquaintance of PW2’s family, the knowledge by itself cannot be said to be the basis of the commission of offence, having regard to the language of Section 3(2)(v) as it stood at the time when the offence in the present case was committed. (Para 58)


Learned Counsel for the Appellant has submitted that as a sequel to the setting aside of the conviction under Section 3(2)(v), the imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for life for the offence under section 376 needs to be modified.


The appellant was 27 years old, a mature individual who was working as a coolie together with the brothers of PW2 for a couple of years. The nature and gravity of the offence in the present case are serious in itself and it is compounded by the position of PW2 who was a visually disabled woman. A heinous offence has been committed on a woman belonging to Scheduled Caste. The imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be faulted.


For the above reasons we have come to the conclusion that the conviction under Section 376(1) and the sentence imposed by the Sessions Judge must be affirmed. In the circumstances we order as follows:

(i) The conviction of the appellant for an offence under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC and ST Act and the sentence imposed in respect of the offence is set aside and the appeal allowed to that extent; and

(ii) (ii) The conviction of the appellant for an offence punishable under Section 376(1) of the Penal Code and the sentence of imprisonment for life is upheld. The fine of Rs 1,000/- and default imprisonment of six months imposed by the Sessions Judge and affirmed by the High Court shall also stand confirmed. (Para 73)


The appeal was dismissed without costs.

View/Download Judgment: PATAN JAMAL VALI V/S THE STATE OF ANDHRA PRADESH


Risikesh Dhanaki

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