Caste system in India is an age old problem; the entire Indian society has been
divided on the basis of their caste. The SCs and STs form the most vulnerable
part of the society, they have been oppressed as well as suppressed since times
immemorial. They've been the victims of several heinous crimes such as, rapes,
murder, sexual assault, being burned alive amongst various others; in order to
safeguard them from such heinous crimes several laws and actions were taken.
first law passed in order to remove caste disabilities was under the British
regime. India post-independence while drafting the constitution tried to ensure
that every single citizen of the country would be treated equally in all
aspects, Dr. B.R.Ambedkar had put in huge efforts to enumerate several
provisions in the constitution in order to remove the caste disabilities and to
bring equality in the main stream society.
The constitution with the help of the
fundamental rights mentioned in part III of the Indian constitution tried to
abolish the caste system. Several provisions in the constitution protects the
interest of the disadvantaged group such as Article 14 of the constitution which
provides every citizen the right to equality, Articles 15 and 16 is exemplified
and particularized this and Article 17 abolishes untouchability.
However none of
these provisions actually brought much change in the society, hence due to the
failure of the constitutional provisions in bringing equality in the society the
parliament implemented the untouchability offence act 1955. Due to several
loopholes and general lacunae in this act, the untouchability offence act in
1976 was refurbished as the Protection of Civil Rights Act.
measures taken by the government they were however not able to bridge the gap
between the upper caste and the lower castes, the laws such as the protection of
civil rights and other provisions of Indian penal court were inadequate in
removing the atrocities faced by the lower caste people hence the parliament
passed the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,
1989 which focused more on the prevalent problems as well had more stringent
Objective of the law
Even after several measures taken by the government of India in order to improve
the social- economic status of the lower caste people, their lives have not
changed much. Despite the constitution abolishing untouchability and providing
equal rights to everyone it can't be seen much in reality, people belonging to
the lower caste are still humiliated in the society.
With the spread in education people belonging to the lower caste tried to assert
their rights however whenever they did try to assert their rights, the people
belonging to the upper caste who had vested interest would try to terrorize and
cow them down.
The existing laws such as the protection of civil rights were inadequate and the
punishments were also not stringent hence in order to prevent the SCs and STs
from being victimized and in cases of atrocities faced adequate remedies being
provided to them was the key objective to bring new laws.
Thus the objective of the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes 1989 act was to
introduce more stringent measures in order to provide higher punishments for
committing atrocities against the SCs and STs. This legislation was enacted with
the intention to provide justice to the people belonging to lower caste and to
abolish the practice of untouchability in real sense. Or in other words to treat
the SCs and STs as an equal member in the society.
Summary of the legislation
The scheduled caste and scheduled tribes act 1989 was passed in order to
safeguard the people belonging to the lower caste from various atrocities faced
by them. The word 'atrocity' wasn't defined before the enactment of this act.
Atrocities refers to any offence against the SCs and STs committed by the people
belonging to other castes.
The prevention of atrocities act can be generally divided into 3 broad
categories, each category covering list of issues related to atrocities faced by
the SCs and STs and their position in the society.
The act itself is divided into 5 chapters:
- The first category contains provisions related to the criminal law, in
this category criminal liability is established for all the crimes defined
in the act and it also expands the scope of penalization in categories
specified under criminal law.
- The second category is made up of all the provisions and liabilities
available for the victims of differ]rent kinds of atrocities
- The final category contain the provisions which had set up special
authorities for the monitoring as well as for the exertion of the act
Some of the salient features of this act being:
- Preliminary: contains definitions of basic terms used in the act
- Offences of atrocities: this chapter specifies the various acts of
atrocities as well as the punishments accompanied with committing the
- Externment: it talks about the actions taken against a person who may
commit a crime, this chapter talks about the removal of such person and the
consequences he may face if he refuses to move.
- Special Courts : the last chapter talks about the special courts set up
for the purpose of providing speedy trials under offences committed under
this act and also specifies the functioning of the special courts.
Chapter 4 also has a subpart titled 4A which deals with the rights of the
victims and witnesses in the cases of atrocities.
- Miscellaneous: the last part contains mix of various provisions such as
the non-applicability of the section 438 of the code, the power vested to the
state government to impose fines as well as the preventive action to be taken by
the law and order machinery among various other similar provisions
- The act lists about 22 various offences which relates to the different
patterns and behaviors which are used in inflicting criminal offences on the
people belonging to lower caste and thus breaking their self-respect and
esteem. This includes discrimination, exploitation and abuse of the legal
process as well as the denial of economic, democratic and social rights of
- This act provides protection of the SCs and STs against:
- Social disabilities such as denial of access to certain places or
forcing them to do labor
- Personal Atrocities such as sexual exploitation, injury or forceful
drinking or eating of inedible food
- Political disabilities such as forcing them to not vote or forcing them
to vote for a candidate of not their choice.
- Economic exploitation such as forcefully snatching their properties as
well as not paying them wages for their labor
This act defines various atrocities as well as prescribes the measures and
remedies available, the punishments under this act are far more strict and
several punishments as well as the quality of the punishment are also enhanced.
- For a far more speedy trial the act as also set up special courts in
cases of atrocities and special public prosecutors are also appointed apart
from this, the act also empowers the government to impose fines and denies
anticipatory bail as well as probation to convict.
- Apart from providing remedies for the offences committed the act also
tries to prevent any atrocity to take place hence the act allows the
identification of atrocities prone area and removes a potential offender,
the act has also set up mandatory monitoring system at different levels i.e.
district, state and national level.
The prime motive of this act is to provide justice to the lower caste people
through proactive efforts and providing them with a life of dignity and to
ensure that they live without the fear of violence or suppression from the
Post-independence there was a sudden rise in the atrocities against the lower
caste and in order to safeguard them several provisions and laws were passed
however there wasn't much change brought by them, thus the parliament had
primarily focused on the several issues faced by the scheduled caste and
scheduled tribe and passed the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe act
(prevention of atrocities act).
The prevention of atrocities act brought with itself several changes in the
existing laws in order to bring a change in the society and to ensure that the
SCs and STs are finally treated equal in the society, the act had defined
several atrocities and had specified the strict punishments accompanied with
Even though the act had not drastically reduced the crimes against the Dalits however there has been a gradual decrease in the crimes committed against
them. More people are being aware of their rights and try to assert it, with
stringent punishments being available now. The people belonging to the lower
caste have started coming forward to file case and seek remedies.
Thus it can be said that even though there hasn't been massive change in the
condition of the SCs and STs however there has most certainly been a decline in
the atrocities faced by them.
The prevention of atrocities act was amended in 2015 as well in 2018
The atrocities against the SCs as well as STs had raised tremendously in
2013-15, in 2014 almost 47500 cases were reported. Due to certain loopholes
present in the act it wasn't being efficient at all hence there was an appeal
made in order to amend the act and bring in changes by including more offences
in the act to ensure proper monitoring of the act to ensure speedy justice and
The 2015 amendment of the act had brought in the following changes:
- Several new offences were added in the list of atrocities
- Exclusive special courts were set up to ensure speedy trial
- The relief fund provided to the victims was also enhanced.
The 2018 amendment was passed in order to nullify the Supreme Court judgment in
the case of Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. The State of Maharashtra & anr
court in this case had introduced certain safeguards in order to prevent the
misusage of this act including provision on anticipatory bail however this
judgment had led to massive protests by the dalits and tribes as they felt that
these safeguards were diluting the purpose of the act thus the parliament had
passed the amendment in order to nullify the supreme court's judgment and bring
the act in its original form.
Changes brought with amendment were:
- Nullified the supreme court's decision to provide for anticipatory bail
thus maintaining the original position of no anticipatory bail in atrocities
The judicial response in the cases under the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe
act proves the importance and need of this act. The judiciary while hearing
several cases of the atrocities act have emphasized time and again on the
importance of this act in the society.
While passing the judgment in the case of Prathvi Raj Chauhan v Union Of
 the supreme court emphasized that the Scheduled caste and tribe
form an extremely vulnerable part of the society hence protecting their interest
is of utmost importance, the judges also emphasized that if we can't protect
them by providing protective discrimination then in a way we're placing them in
a disadvantageous position
Similarly the judicial responses at times depicts the loopholes still present in
the act such as in the case of Hitesh Verma v. State of Uttarakhand where the
court held that an insult against a SC wouldn't be deemed an offence unless it
has been done in the 'public eye'. This clearly depicts how the act still
contains several loopholes which can be used to harass the lower caste people.
The Scheduled Caste and scheduled tribes act 1989 is an extremely crucial act
passed for safeguarding the vulnerable part of the society from the dominant
caste. This act was in a way like a boon to the SCs and STs which helps in
providing them with the equal status and respect in the society which they've
This act also ensures that no one stops them in asserting their rights and
safeguards them from several atrocities. However despite the act safeguarding
the lower caste people the act still has several loopholes which are used by the
offenders to escape liability, similarly there are times and places where the
act isn't implemented hence to ensure that the act is utilized properly new
provision must be brought.
This act would only be meaningful if every single person belonging to the lower
caste are treated equally and aren't discriminated against; this act is a step
towards a society in which everyone is treated equally and with respect.
- Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. The State of Maharashtra &anr., (2018) 6
- Prathvi Raj Chauhan v Union Of India , 2020 SSC OnLine SC 159
- Hitesh Verma vs. The State of Uttarakhand and Ors. MANU/SC/0843/2020