The Delhi High Court on Monday said that any offensive post on social media targeting an individual of the SC/ST community, even if made in a closed group, is punishable.
The court said that Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, will apply if a casteist remark is made against a person from these communities.
While the court gave its ruling in reference to a Facebook “Wall”, the judgement is applicable on other social media platforms like WhatsApp which have closed privacy 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,” Times of India quoted Justice Vipin Sanghi as saying.
The court, however, added that if the complainant and those connected to him/her on Facebook are related to each other, then they will not be prosecuted.
Explaining the interpretation, Justice Sanghi said, “it would make no difference whether the privacy settings are set by the author of the offending post to "private" or "public" as sections of SC/ST Act do not require that the intentional insult or intimidation with intention to humiliate a member of the SC or ST should take place in the presence of the said member. Even if the victim is not present, and behind his/her back the offending insult or intimidation with intention to humiliate him/her - who is a member of the SC or a ST takes place, the same would be culpable if it takes place within public view”.
The court’s interpretation came while hearing a complaint by an SC woman against her co-sister who is a Rajput. She alleged that her co-sister was “harassing and abusing my caste on social network sites and that she used bad words for Dhobis”.
In her defence, the Rajput woman said that her Facebook posts have been posted to her own Facebook wall and do not disclose insult intentional insult or humiliation against any individual.
She also said that she never took her co-sister’s name in her posts, and that they were directed against the females of the ‘Dhobi’ community in general, and not against any specific individual.
She further defended herself by saying that her Facebook wall is a private space.
Justice Sanghi quashed the FIR by agreeing that generalised statements against all and sundry and not against specific individual belonging to the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe, would not make out an offence. But it rejected the second limb of her argument that a Facebook wall cannot be described as a place within public view.