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 prevalent 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" backward 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 apex court said to call a person as a 'pallapayal' in Tamil Nadu is also an offence. "Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, there is a caste called 'parayan' but the word 'parayan' is also used in a derogatory sense. The word 'paraparayan' is even more derogatory.
"In our opinion, uses of the words 'pallan', 'pallapayal' 'parayan' or 'paraparayan' with intent to insult is highly objectionable and is also an offence under the Scheduled Cast/ Scheduled Tribe Act. It is just unacceptable in the modern age, just as the words 'Nigger' or 'Negro' are unacceptable for African-Americans today ," the bench said.
The apex court cited the two-tumbler theory prevailing in the southern state. "We would also like to mention the highly objectionable two-tumbler system prevalent in many parts of Tamil Nadu. This system is that in many tea shops and restaurants, there are separate tumblers for serving tea or other drinks to SCs and non-SCs.
"This is highly objectionable and is an offence under the SC/ST Act, and hence those practicing it must be criminally proceeded against and given harsh punishment if found guilty.
All administrative and police officers will be accountable and departmentally proceeded against if despite having knowledge of any such practice in the area under their jurisdiction they do not launch criminal proceedings against the culprits," the bench said.