Caste videos on social media may be punishable under SC/ST law: Kerala HC

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The Kerala High Court on Tuesday ruled that those seen using caste slurs in online videos can be charged under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 (SC Act). /ST). In rendering its judgment, the Court noted that in the digital age, a person’s online presence and activity is an important part of their life. The court issued the decision while rejecting a request for early bail from the general manager of “True TV”, an online news platform.

According to details of the case published on Live Law, the petitioner, after learning that sexual assault complaints from an ST woman had led to the arrest of another media personality, was interviewed by the husband and the wife’s father-in-law. In the video, uploaded to YouTube as well as other social media platforms, the petitioner allegedly made offensive remarks about the woman, including her identity as a member of a Scheduled Tribe. The petitioner claimed that the charges against him do not stand up, since the woman his comments were directed at did not appear in the video with him.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 was enacted to severely punish violent hate crimes committed against members of these communities and was intended to act as a deterrent.. Constitutional rights against discrimination and untouchability had failed to curb crimes against SCs and STs, and previous legislation to combat such crimes, such as the Civil Rights Protection Act of 1955, worked. over a much narrower scope. For example, the 1955 law initially only provided protection against untouchability, while failing to notice other forms of caste-based hate crimes.

SC/ST law understands an “atrocity” as an outrageously cruel and inhumane crime committed against an SC or ST person by someone outside of those communities. In the “True TV” video case, the petitioner was charged under Sections 3(1) r, 3(1) s and 3(1) w(ii) of the Act – which criminalize verbal expressions of casteism.

Section 3(1) r deals with anyone who “intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of the SC or ST communities in any place in public view”; 3(1) s deals with anyone who “abuses any member of an SC or ST by caste name in any place in public view”; and 3(1) w(ii) concerns anyone who uses “words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature towards a woman belonging to an SC or an ST, knowing that she belongs to an SC or an ST “.


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Judge Bechu Kurien Thomas, who presided over the judgment, noted that “viewer numbers have evolved in the digital age”. “When the victim accesses content already posted on the Internet, he becomes directly and constructively present for the purposes of the application of the criminal provisions of the law. Thus, when insulting or abusive content is posted on the Internet, the victim of the abuse or insult can be deemed to be present each time they access it, ”he further observed. The court also noted that since the video was available on social media and anyone could easily access it, the dissemination of the video involved the presence of the victim and the public. For these reasons, the court upheld the charges against the petitioner.

The court’s interpretation of the law could broaden its scope in the digital age, providing clearer recourse to the law. SC/ST law in the country has a low conviction rate, leading to frequent allegations that the law is being misused to wrongfully punish innocent upper-caste individuals. However, last year the Supreme Court observed that the low conviction rate in the law was due to systemic failures as opposed to false cases. The court lamented that many SC or ST persons “face insurmountable obstacles in accessing justice from the filing of the complaint until the conclusion of the trial” and that they “suffer specifically because of the procedural shortcomings of the criminal justice system”. The court mentioned that fear of reprisals from upper caste groups, ignorance and apathy from the police, prevented many SC and ST people from even filing a complaint. And those who managed to get their cases registered faced flawed police investigative processes, which ultimately resulted in a non-conviction in several of the cases registered under the law.

The Kerala High Court judgment has the potential to broaden the scope of the law. Caste slurs and caste-based violence on videos and social media are an increasingly common way to circumvent legal restrictions on caste speech and actions. Often caste slurs are used interchangeably with other swear words in online interactions. With the rise of censorship-free OTT platforms, there is also an increased and unfiltered use of caste slurs in streaming shows. With the court ruling that easy access to caste content would involve the presence of a victim and an audience, it remains to be seen whether these online interactions or future OTT broadcasts that highlight caste on a daily basis will be more caste-conscious than before.


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