Failure of the Indian judiciary to protect the rights of the people

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (“Act”) was passed by the Parliament of India in September 1989 to prevent the commission of offenses against dalits, protect the rights of other backward castes, and to grant relief to the victims of such derogatory caste-based violence.

However, the Indian Judiciary in one of the recent judgments, Khuman Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh has weakened the current status of the above-mentioned act. Section 3(2)(v) of the act lays down the punishment for the offense committed under the Indian Penal Code against any member belonging to the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe. But the Supreme Court while delivering the judgment said the punishment will only be awarded if the victim belonged to the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe. The Supreme Court has gone beyond its mandate of interpreting the law and stated that a new evidentiary burden of proof lies on the prosecution to prove before the court that the offense was committed only because the victim belonged to scheduled caste. Furthermore, the apex court failed to acknowledge the existing caste-based discrimination and the oppression faced by the lower caste. The court provided the accused a loophole in the commission of such offences on the grounds that the caste prejudice was one of the contributing factors; it was not the only factor that caused such offenses. This may lead to a situation where the culprits who commit such offenses might not be prosecuted and will not be awarded the punishment they deserve.

In another case, Subhash Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court had diluted the provisions of the said Act relating to immediate arrest on the commission of offenses under the act by providing court-imposed requirements of conducting a preliminary inquiry and obtaining prior approval before an arrest. This judgment has led to widespread protests throughout the country which also highlighted the flaws of the Indian judicial system. Nevertheless, both the judgments have strengthened the way the members of the higher caste enjoy their privilege. It failed to protect the basic legal and fundamental rights of the lower castes.