In a recent judicial ruling by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, the legal intricacies of defining 'public' versus 'private' spaces in the context of caste-based offences under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC & ST (POA) Act) were put under the spotlight. The case of Ashutosh Tiwari & Anr v. State of Madhya Pradesh & Anr has marked a significant milestone in the understanding of legal boundaries within private spaces concerning caste-based abuses.
The single-judge bench of Justice Vishal Dhagat navigated the core issue of whether the purported incidents of caste-based abuses, particularly the use of the term 'Chamar,' within a school staffroom could be categorized as offences under the SC & ST (POA) Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The central point of contention lay in the interpretation of 'public view' as mandated under Section 3 (1) (x) of the SC & ST (POA) Act. The Court's pivotal observation asserted that the alleged abuses were not vocalized in a 'public place.' Citing the definition within the Act, the ruling deemed that for an offense to fall under this section, it must occur within public view. The staff room, the Court argued, did not align with this definition as it was not a space accessible to the general public without the school's explicit permission. Hence, the Court concluded that the accused could not be held accountable under the SC & ST (POA) Act.
The judgment further deliberated on the application of Section 294 IPC (Obscene Acts and Songs), reasoning that the staff room, by its inherent nature, did not meet the criteria of a 'public place,' thus negating the applicability of this section as well. Moreover, the Court addressed the absence of allegations in the complaint that the abuses caused alarm or intimidation to the petitioner, thereby ruling out the application of Section 506 IPC (Criminal Intimidation) to the case's circumstances. Consequently, the Court rendered a decision to quash the criminal proceedings that had been pending against the accused since 2010 before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Shahdol District for offences under Sections 294, 506 (II) of IPC & 3 (1) (x) of SC & ST (POA) Act.
The case of Ashutosh Tiwari & Anr v. State of Madhya Pradesh & Anr involved allegations of caste-based abuse against some teachers in a school staff room, which was challenged by the petitioners as a violation of their fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15 and 19 of the Constitution of India.
The judgment is significant as it clarifies the legal boundaries within private spaces concerning caste-based offences and upholds the right to privacy and dignity of individuals. The judgment also highlights the need for sensitization and awareness among people about caste-based discrimination and atrocities.