India's highest court: "untouchability" is unconstitutional

By J VENKATESAN , 27 March
Members of India's "untouchables" caste (Photo credit:
Members of India's "untouchables" caste (Photo credit:

No “people or community should be insulted or looked down upon, and nobody’s feelings should be hurt”, the Supreme Court observed in a ruling on Friday.

The top court quashed an order by the Patna high court granting anticipatory bail to Omkarjit Singh Ahluwalia and two others in a case of insulting a woman from a Scheduled Caste. The bench, consisting Justices R.K. Agrawal and Ashok Bhushan, said, “The use of the words ‘harijan’ ‘dhobi’ etc. is often used by people belonging to the so-called upper castes as a word of insult, abuse and derision.” The bench said calling a person by these names is abusive and offensive. The court went on to say that the Constitution of India abolishes “untouchability”.

The Supreme Court observed that in view of the social attitudes which lead to such offences being commited against SCs and STs, there was every likelihood of the accused misusing their liberty while on anticipatory bail to terrorise their victims and to prevent a proper investigation.

Writing the judgment, Justice Agrawal said that such offences were committed to humiliate and subjugate members of SCs and STs with a view to keeping them in a state of servitude. These offences constitute a separate class and cannot be compared with offences under the IPC. The court noted that Section 18 of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, creates a bar for granting anticipatory bail and the Patna high court has committed a grave error in granting the same to the respondents.

In this case, the appellant was aggrieved over the grant of anticipatory bail to the accused who tried to outrage her modesty, the court said. When the complainant resisted their acts, the respondents forcefully pushed her on the floor and started abusing her with words such as “Harijan” and “dhoban”. “You harijan people’s attitude has gone very high and today you will be left destroyed,” the complaint quoted the accused as saying. It was further mentioned in the complaint that the respondents threatened her life before leaving the place.

An FIR was registered on her complaint, and the accused were granted anticipatory bail after the trial court took cognizance of the complaint. The present appeal is directed against this order. The apex court allowed the appeal and asked them to surrender and seek regular bail.

The Asian Age


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