This article is written by Nazar Nawaz Abbasi pursuing LLB from Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.


SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act of 1989 is remarkable legal protection granted to the depressed classes against atrocities happened to them. It is a law which not only defines cruelty against SCs and STs but also makes so many rules, regulations etc. for protection of these sections of society.

SCs and STs are the most marginalized sections of Indian society. Many atrocities have been committed against them since time unknown. The SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 protects them against discrimination and cruel act. However, the SC/ST act can never be called a successful law.

Forms of Atrocities against SC/ST 

1.Cow vigilantism

The term Cow vigilantism describes the lawlessness happening under the name of Cow protection.

  • SC/ST and Muslims are at the receiving end of this atrocity.
  • SC/ST are concentrated in the occupation of leather making from skin obtained from the cow, they are invariably targeted by vigilantes.

2. Honour killing

In a country like India, where caste structures are still dominant in the form of endogamy, honour killings are prevalent on large scale.

  • In Lata Singh vs. the State of UP, Supreme Court has decided that inter-caste marriages are in the national interest as they destroy the caste system.
  • Bhagwan Dass v. Delhi  states that honour killings in the  rarest of rare category of crimes that deserve the death penalty.

3. Social Boycott

  • Khap panchayat – Khap panchayat often acts as an arena for perpetrating atrocities against SC (Dalits) by ostracizing them from society.
  • Bhim Rao Ambedkar had recognized the atrocities meting out to Dalits in the form of social boycott. He fought against the practice.

4. Caste Clashes

  • In rural India, OBC(Other Backward Class) became dominant caste by ousting upper-caste due to-
  • They were able to convert their strength in numbers into political force once universal adult franchise came.
  • Post-Indian rural development model was favourable to them.
  • On the other hand, the Post-Independent development model didn’t result in the upward mobility of SC(Dalits). Thus OBCs became the new oppressor of SCs in place of traditional upper castes.
  • Post-1990 reforms, there was a resurgence among Dalit due to
    • Reservation policy led to the emergence of the middle class among Dalits who attack Dalit(SC) movements.
    • Urbanization and other opportunities followed by 1990 reforms lead to improvement in Dalits(SCs) life.
  • This occurrence was met with violent clashes among upper castes/OBCs and SCs/STs.

Why in News?

1. In early 2018, the Supreme Court stressed the need for providing inbuilt safeguards within the SC and ST (prevention of atrocities) Act of 1989 to struck down some and provided guidelines.

2. Following a widespread protest from SC (Dalits) against the verdict, the Union Cabinet had given its nod to the Amendment Bill to restore the original provisions of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.

Why does the act need to be amended?

1. The 1989 Act penalizes those who insult by caste remarks and even denies anticipatory bail to the suspected offenders.

2. There was acknowledged abuse of the power to arrest under the Act.

3. The law is used to rob a person of his personal liberty merely on the unilateral word of the complainant.

4. Public administration has been threatened by the abuse of this Act.

5. Public servants find it difficult to give bad remarks against employees for fear that they may be charged under the Act.

6. Parliament could not allow arrest without a fair procedure and Article 21 has to be read into every provision of law.

7. Hence the Supreme Court had struck down some original provisions of the Act and issued some guidelines to protect people against arbitrary arrests under the Act

SC Guidelines

1. It is directed that public servants could be arrested only with the written permission of their authority who appoints them.

2. In the case of private employees, the SSP(Senior Superintendent of Police) concerned should allow it.

3. An initial inquiry should be conducted before the FIR was registered.

4. This was to check if the case falls within the ambit of the SC/ST Act of 1989, and whether it was frivolous or motivated.

Way forward

  1. Article 338 stipulates that governments should consult the “National Commission for SC” on all major policy matters affecting Scheduled Castes.
  2. Article 338 A mandates all major policy decision affecting STs to be taken in consultation with “National Commission for Scheduled Tribes”.
  3. Considering this, the Supreme Court is also bound to hear these commissions before pronouncements that are likely to impact SC/STs on a whole.
  4. But in its urge to take out the misuse of SC/ST atrocities act, the court seems to have subdued constitutional prudence and overlooked the commissions.
  5. Some argue that the Supreme Court decision doesn’t constitute a major impactful policy decision and that it merely tweaked the existing act.
  6. But spontaneous protests that erupted in the aftermath indicate otherwise, and the verdict was definitely seen as a major affront on social justice.
  7. However, it is important for the bill or ordinance to provide in clear terms the reasons for reversing the SC order by pondering on the logic applied by the court.
  8. In this case, the SC order was based on the argument that the SC/ST Act was being misused, which needs to be decried for lack of substantiated evidence.
  9. Hence the task of balancing the rights of innocent persons facing false accusations and the need to accord legitimacy to the Atrocities Act requires compassion, reverence for the Constitution and awareness.

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