Any offensive post on social media targeting an individual of the SC/ST community, even if made in a closed group, is punishable, the Delhi high court said on Monday. Any such offensive post will be punishable under Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Although the reference of the judgement was a Facebook “wall”, the judgement can also extend to Whatsapp which has 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,” Justice Vipin Sanghi observed. Under Section 3(1) (x) of the SC/ST Act, it is an offence if someone makes statements which intentionally insults or intimidates with an intent to humiliate a member of such communities in any place within public view. “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 added. The court said in the case of social media platforms, public view would include any independent or impartial witness who has seen an offensive statement. However, it excluded “generalised statements” made against the community not against any specific individual from the purview of the section.
The ruling came in wake of the growing hatred toward the SC/ST community. The people are becoming largely intolerant towards the SC/ST community and are treating them as social outcasts, leading them to become another socially prejudiced group in need of protection of their interest. This ruling has come as a respite from social injustice and inequality.
The complainant in this case was a woman belonging to the ‘dhobi’ community who alleged that her sister-in-law made offensive statements on Facebook against her community with a view to humiliate her. The sister in law refuted the allegations saying the comments were made on her Facebook wall and the petitioner was blocked from viewing it and prayed for the FIR to be quashed. However, the police opposed the FIR being quashed saying that the petitioner/accused changed her settings from ‘private’ to ‘public’ which would enable everyone to read it. The Court quashed the FIR saying that the comments made by the petitioner were about the ‘dhobi’ community as a whole and were not directed to insult an individual member of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, as was clear from the perusal of the post of the accused on her Facebook ‘wall’. “For all the reasons, the FIR as well as the proceedings qua the petitioner under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, are hereby quashed,” the court said.