Note: This topic is important for TISSNET.
The tragedy of a 19-year-old Dalit lady being gang raped in Hathras in 2020 is still clear in our thoughts.
Following the Hathras incident, the Supreme Court issued a fresh ruling (Patan Jamal Vali v. State of Andhra Pradesh) that addressed the intersectionality of caste, gender, and handicap.
Activists, academics, and attorneys contended that the sexual violence was committed because of the woman’s caste and gender, and that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA Act) should be used.
Examples where courts have overturned the PoA Act
Courts have virtually always overturned convictions under the PoA Act in cases of sexual abuse against Dalit and Adivasi women.
- In the case of Ramdas and Others v. State of Maharashtra, when a Dalit minor girl was raped, the Supreme Court overturned the judgment under the PoA Act, noting that the PoA Act would not apply just because the victim was a woman from a SC group.
- “It is not the case of the prosecution that the rape was performed on the victim because she was a member of Scheduled Caste,” the Supreme Court said in Dinesh Alias Buddha v. State of Rajasthan (2006).
- The court concluded in Asharfi v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2017) that the facts and documents on record did not demonstrate that the appellant had committed rape because the victim belonged to the SC group.
- In Khuman Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh, a case of murder, the court held that while the fact that the deceased was a part of the SC community was not in dispute, there was no evidence to show that the crime was committed solely on that basis, and the conviction under the PoA Act was overturned.
There are various precedents that insist on a burden of proof that is unrealistic. This matter should be addressed to a bigger bench for a new perspective.
Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA Act)
The PoA Act was implemented to address crimes against people from the SC and ST communities, and it was updated in 2015 to include further atrocities targeting Dalit and Adivasi women, including as sexual assault, sexual harassment, and Devadasi devotion.
Section 3(2)(v) of the IPC provides that if a person who is not a part of the SC/ST community commits an offence punishable by life imprisonment and a fine under the IPC against a person who is a member of the SC/ST community, he would be sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine.
The phrase “on the ground that such person is a member of SC/ST” was changed to “knowing that such person is a member of SC/ST” in 2015.
Vulnerability mitigation strategy: The discrimination will be addressed using an intersectional approach:
Let’s start with the positive features.
In the first instance, the Supreme Court stressed on the need for an intersectional approach to account for the victim’s many marginalizations.
The need to comprehend how many elements of oppression combined to form a particular experience of subjugation for the blind Dalit woman is known as intersectional discrimination (in this case).
The court also issued instructions to train judges, police officers, and prosecutors to be more sensitive in such circumstances, putting a special focus on creating the criminal justice system more receptive to women with disabilities who are victims of sexual assault.
The court has acknowledged intersectional discrimination:
- The victim of sexual assault in Patan Jamal Vali v. State of Andhra Pradesh was a blind 22-year-old Dalit woman.
- The accused was convicted of rape under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 3(2)(v) of the PoA Act, and sentenced to life in prison by the trial court and the High Court.
- The conviction and penalty for rape under the IPC were upheld by the Supreme Court, however the conviction under the PoA Act was overturned.
- On the one hand, this decision is a tremendous step forward since the court took advantage of the chance to recognise intersectional discrimination against women based on sex, caste, and disability.
- However, by overturning the conviction under the PoA Act, it follows the precedent of numerous earlier Supreme Court decisions.