Conviction under SC/ST Act subject to knowledge of victim's caste

Conviction under SC/ST Act subject to knowledge of victim's caste
A man cannot be convicted of an additional offence under the SC/ST Act until it is proved that the perpetrator committed the offence knowing the victim belonged to the oppressed caste.

After the 2016 amendment to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, knowledge of the accused that the person upon whom the offence is committed belongs to SC/ST community is  what  brings home the charge under the special law, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R Banumathi said.

The court explained the position of the law while dealing with an appeal filed by Asharfi, against the life-term sentence imposed on him for committing gang-rape on a girl from the SC/ST community.

The court noted that the offence in the case has been committed on the intervening night of December 8 and 9, 1995, prior to the amendment.

"The gravamen of Section 3(2)(v) of SC/ST Act is that any offence, envisaged under Indian Penal  Code punishable with imprisonment for a term of ten years or more, against a person belonging to Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe, should have been committed on the ground that 'such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe or such property belongs to such member'," the bench noted.

"By way of this amendment, the words '...on the ground that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe' have been substituted with the words '...knowing that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe'," the court said.

The bench said it is clear that even before the amendment, the statute laid stress on the intention of the accused in committing the offence in order to belittle the person because he/she belongs to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe community.

After going through the evidence and materials on record, the court said those did not show that the appellant had committed rape on the victim on the ground that she belonged to Scheduled Caste.

It set aside his conviction and sentence of life term under the SC/ST Act.

The court, however, upheld his conviction for gang-rape and the sentence of 10 years of jail term that he had already served.

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