The Delhi High Court on Monday said any offensive post on a social platform that targets an individual of the Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) community, even in a closed group, is punishable.
The high court clarifies the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 will apply if a casteist abuse is made against a person belonging to these communities.The ruling, though came in reference to a Facebook post, is extended to other social media platform as well, like WhatsApp and other which have closed private settings.
“When a member registered with Facebook changes the privacy settings to ‘public’ from ‘private’, it makes his/her writings on the ‘wall’ accessible not only to the other members who are befriended by the author of the writings on the “wall”, but also by any other member registered with Facebook. However, even if privacy settings are retained by a Facebook member as “private”, making of an offending post by the member – which falls foul of Section under Section 3(1)(x) of the SC/ST Act—may still be punishable,” Justice Vipin Sanghi noted.
The court was hearing a case by an SC woman against her sister, who is a Rajput. The complainant said her sister was “harassing and abusing my caste on Facebook” and used bad words for Dhobis.
The Rajput woman, in her defense, said that her Facebook post, even if assumed to be true, was not to direct intentional insult at anyone. The accused also argued that in her post she never took her sister’s name and that she has no basis to be insulted or get offended since the posts were directed against the females of Dhobi community in general, not against any individual. She also said that Facebook wall is a private space and no one has the right to barge in only to feel offended.
The additional standing counsel Nandita Rao, appearing for the prosecution, told the court that offence under SC/ST Act is made out, as the Rajput woman knowingly posted on Facebook to insult her Dalit sister.
The FIR was quashed and Justice Sanghi relieved the Rajput girl agreeing that generalised statements against all and sundry, and not against specific individual belonging to the SC/ST, would not make out an offence.
The HC clarified that only exception from prosecution in these cases would be if the complainant and those connected to him/her on Facebook are related to each other. Justice Sanghi pointed out that “public view” means “a place where public persons are present – howsoever small in number they may be.”