This article is written by Mudit Jain, a law student at Indore Institute of Law. This article gives an overview of the caste-based violence against women and how they are suffering from it and how our prestigious Courts are recognizing them.
The tragedy of a 19-year-old Dalit lady being gang-raped in Hathras in 2020 is still vivid in our thoughts. Following the Hathras incident, the Supreme Court issued a fresh decision in Patan Jamal Vali v. State of Andhra Pradesh addressing the intersectionality of caste, gender, and handicap. Activists, academics, and attorneys contended that the sexual violence was committed because of the woman’s gender and caste and that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA Act) should be invoked.
Examples of Courts Setting Aside the PoA Act
Courts have virtually always overturned convictions under the PoA Act in situations of sexual abuse against Dalit and Adivasi women.
- In Khuman Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2019), a murder case, the court concluded that while the deceased’s membership in the SC group was not challenged, there was no evidence to indicate that the offence was committed solely on that basis; conviction under the PoA Act was overturned.
- In Asharfi v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2017), the court determined that the facts and documents on record did not establish that the appellant committed rape because the victim was a member of the SC community.
- In Ramdas and Others v. State of Maharashtra (2006), a case where a Dalit child girl was raped, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction under the PoA Act, holding that the fact that the victim was a lady from an SC group did not entitle her to the PoA Act.
- In Dinesh Alias Buddha v. State of Rajasthan (2006), the Supreme Court stated, “It is not the prosecution’s argument that the rape was performed on the victim because she was a member of the Scheduled Caste.”
Several precedents that insist on an unreasonable burden of proof. This matter should be sent to a broader bench for a different viewpoint.
SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
The PoA Act was intended to combat atrocities committed against members of the SC and ST groups, and it was updated in 2015 to particularly recognize new crimes committed against Dalit and Adivasi women, such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, and Devadasi devotion.
Section 3(2)(v) states that if any person not being an SC/ST member commits an offence under the IPC punishable with imprisonment of 10 years or more shall be punished with life imprisonment and a fine if he commits an offence against a person because he is a member of the SC/ST community.
In 2015, the term “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.”
The Intersectional Approach Will Address the Discrimination
In a first, the Supreme Court expanded on the necessity for an intersectional approach to account for the victim’s many marginalization. The intersectional discrimination requires an understanding of how several forces of oppression worked together to generate a distinct experience of subordination for the blind Dalit lady. The court also issued directives to teach judges, police officers, and prosecutors to be more sensitive in such instances, emphasizing the need of making the criminal justice system more receptive to women with disabilities who have been sexually assaulted.
Burden of Proof a Reason to Expose Vulnerable Women to Sexual Violence
In all of the above-mentioned decisions, the court determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the accused committed sexual assault because the victim was a member of the SC/ST group. The only proof that may be shown is that the victim belonged to an SC/ST group and that the accused was aware of this. When a woman is handicapped and from a marginalized caste, she experiences prejudice because of her gender, caste/tribe, and handicap, all of which makes her vulnerable to sexual abuse.
Recognition to Intersectional Discrimination by the Court
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 by the trial court and the High Court, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In this decision, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and penalty for rape under the IPC but overturned the conviction under the PoA Act.
On the one hand, this decision is a tremendous step forward since the court took advantage of the chance to recognize intersectional discrimination against women based on their gender, caste, and handicap.
However, by overturning the conviction under the PoA Act, it follows in the footsteps of many other earlier Supreme Court decisions.
Suggestions to Reduce the Issue
- Enhanced police accountability and efficient victim and witness protection.
- Addressing impunity for sexual assault perpetrators, particularly those from powerful castes.
- Taking attempts to minimize community engagement in situations of sexual abuse, such as prohibiting the use of khap panchayats.
- Combating intersectional types of prejudice experienced by Dalit women and girls while interacting with law enforcement agencies
- Improved funding and usage of current money for initiatives preventing and responding to sexual assault.
According to the latest Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on Atrocities and Crimes Against Women and Children, a “high acquittal rate stimulates and enhances the confidence of dominant and strong societies in continuing perpetration.” This decision was a wasted chance for the court to utilize intersectionality to sustain the conviction under the PoA Act or, if necessary, refer the case to a bigger bench.
We must stop hiding behind smokescreens of evidence’s hyper-technicality and recognize caste-based violence against women when it is there in front of us. Otherwise, our anti-caste legislation would be made ineffective. If intersectionality theory had been relevant in this case, it should have inspired an interpretation of the PoA Act that reflects the lived realities of women who have experienced sexual abuse.
The government should focus on strategy implementation. A comprehensive investigation and a time trial are essential for victims from the SC/ST category. This will help to increase confidence among the society’s less fortunate members.
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