The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 seeks to ensure more stringent provisions for prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. The Act is an amendment to the Principal Act, namely, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) (PoA) Act, 1989 and is being enforced with effect from January 26, 2016.
The key features of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, are:
- Actions to be treated as offences - The Act outlines actions (by non SCs and STs) against SCs or STs to be treated as offences. The Amendment Act amends certain existing categories and adds new categories of actions to be treated as offences. New offences added under the Act include: (a) garlanding with footwear, (b) compelling to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or do manual scavenging, (c) abusing SCs or STs by caste name in public, (d) attempting to promote feelings of ill-will against SCs or STs or disrespecting any deceased person held in high esteem, and (e) imposing or threatening a social or economic boycott.
- Assaulting or sexual exploiting an SC or ST woman is an offence under the Act - The Amendment Act adds that: (a) intentionally touching an SC or ST woman in a sexual manner without her consent, or (b) using words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature, or (c) dedicating an SC or ST women as a devadasi to a temple, or any similar practice will also be considered an offence. Consent is defined as a voluntary agreement through verbal or non-verbal communication.
- Preventing SCs or STs from undertaking the following activities will be considered an offence - (a) using common property resources, (c) entering any place of worship that is open to the public, and (d) entering an education or health institution.
- Addition of presumption to the offences – The court shall presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim if the accused had personal knowledge of the victim or his family, unless the contrary is proved.
- Role of public servants - The Act specifies that a non SC or ST public servant who neglects his/her duties relating to SCs or STs shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term of six months to one year. The Amendment Act specifies these duties, including: (a) registering a complaint or FIR, (b) reading out information given orally, before taking the signature of the informant and giving a copy of this information to the informant, etc.
- Addition of certain IPC offences like hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation, kidnapping etc., attracting less than ten years of imprisonment, committed against members of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe, as offences punishable under the PoA Act. Presently, only those offences listed in IPC as attracting punishment of 10 years or more and committed on members of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe are accepted as offences falling under the PoA Act.
- Establishment of Exclusive Special Courts and specification of Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors also, to exclusively try the offences under the PoA Act to enable speedy and expeditious disposal of cases.
- Rights of victims and witnesses - The Amendment Act adds a chapter on the rights of victims and witness. It shall be the duty of the state to make arrangements for the protection of victims, their dependants and witnesses. The state government shall specify a scheme to ensure the implementation of rights of victims and witnesses.
- The courts established under the Act may take measures such as: (a) concealing the names of witnesses, (b) taking immediate action in respect of any complaint relating to harassment of a victim, informant or witness, etc. Any such complaint shall be tried separately from the main case and be concluded within two months.
Source : PRS
Frequently asked questions
What does this law do?
This law does three things:
- It punishes crimes against people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
- It gives special protections and rights to victims.
- It sets up courts for fast completion of cases.
What sorts of crimes are punished?
- Some crimes under the IPC are given increased punishments under this law.
- Cruel and degrading crimes that occur very often against SC/ST communities, such as forcing them to eat cowdung, boycotting them socially etc. More than 20 such acts are punished under this law.
Do you have to have a caste-based intention to be punished under this law? That is, do you have to commit the crime because someone belongs to an SC/ST?
In most cases, a caste-based intention does not have to be proved. That is, it does not have to be proved that the accused person committed the crime for the reason that the victim belonged to a Scheduled Caste or Tribe. Only for three crimes, intention has to established.
- The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015
- PIB Press Release
- The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) (PoA) Act, 1989
- Simple explainer on the SC/ST POA Act