New Delhi, Apr 20 : Calling a Dalit by his caste with a view to insulting him or her is an offence under Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), the Supreme Court has ruled, upholding the conviction of two persons in Tamil Nadu.
A bench of justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra also deplored the "two tumbler" practice prevalant in the state and asked the government to rid the menace, failing which it said the police and administrative officers concerned shall be liable for prosecution under the Act.
In some parts of the state, there is a practice of serving food and beverages in separate tumblers for members of the Dalit and other castes.
The accused Arumugam Servai and Ajit Kumar, who belonged to the 'servai" bacward caste community, were convicted by the sessions judge Madurai for calling the Dalits Panneerselvam and Mahamani by their caste "pallan" and assaulting them.
"The word ‘pallan' no doubt denotes a specific caste, but it is also a word used in a derogatory sense to insult someone (just as in North India the word ‘chamar'denotes a specific caste but it is also used in a derogatory sense to insult someone).
"Even calling a person a ‘pallan', if used with the intent to insult a member of the Scheduled Caste, is, in our opinion, an offence under Section 3(1)(x) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989," Justice Katju writing the judgement said.
The court said: "The appellant Arumugam Servai then insulted PW1 by saying you are a pallapayal and eating deadly cow beef.
"Apart from the two injured eye-witnesses, there are 3 other eye-witnesses to the occurrence. The doctor has testified to the injuries. The head fracture on Mahamani indicates the deadly intent of the accused.
"Both the Courts below have believed the prosecution case, and we see no reason to differ. We have carefully perused the testimony of the witnesses, and we see no reason to disbelieve them," the court said.
The apex court cited a quote from Thomas Jefferson's poetry "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator by certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
The bench said the present caste discrimination was not acceptable in modern Indian society.
"A large section of Indian society still regard a section of their own countrymen as inferior. This mental attitude is simply unacceptable in the modern age, and it is one of the main causes holding up the country's progress," the bench said.
The victims were abused by the accused during the traditional Jallikattu festival(bull fight).
The bench recalled its earlier observation that in the modern age nobody's feelings should be hurt.
"We must take care not to insult anyone's feelings on account of his caste, religion, tribe, language, etc. Only then can we keep our country united and strong.
"The appellants in the present case have behaved like uncivilised savages, and hence deserve no mercy. With these observations the appeals are dismissed," the bench said. PTI