SC/ST Atrocity Act: A Complete Guide


To stop crimes against people who are members of Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was passed in the late 90s. Since ancient times, these communities have experienced prejudice and injustice as a result of their lower social standing. By making offenses against these vulnerable groups illegal, the act offers legal protection to the most marginalized members of our society like the Dalits and Adivasis.

Historical Background

Human classifications date back to the Vedas. Based on vocation, the Rigveda created the ancient social division known as Varna, which included Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. The principal source of support for this assertion was the Manusmriti or the Book of Law. The first three groups have been shown to share similarities with Indo-European cultures, and Shudras are believed to have come from Brahmins. In the Vedic era, the idea of untouchability did not exist. This idea seems to have originated in post-Vedic literature; the Manusmriti, for example, is said to have introduced the term "outcast" and the notion that they ought to be excluded.

The British, who sprang from a rigorous caste-based culture as well, strove to identify themselves with the Indian caste system from the perspective of a rigid, class-based society. They used caste, religion, and other factors to divide and govern the nation. By creating a distinct electorate, the British took a vindictive action. The consensus is that the Poona Pact (1932) between Gandhi and Ambedkar had a major role in the formation of divide and rule in this nation, which worsened circumstances for the Dalit population. Lord Cornwallis instituted the Zamindari System in 1793, mostly impacting the lowest castes of society and causing notable socioeconomic divides in the community.

The Untouchability (Offences) Act 1955 was passed in response to the failure of the Indian Constitution to end the practice of untouchability and to establish equality for all members of Indian society. However, this Act's flaws and shortcomings required a comprehensive revision. The Act was renamed the Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976. The Dalits continued to be a vulnerable group despite the government's numerous efforts to bridge the gap between the lower and upper castes and shield them from harassment, discrimination, and other offenses.

If they tried to express their rights or revolt against the practice of untouchability, entrenched interests would scare and cower them down, even if they were aware of their rights. Existing legislation, such as the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, was insufficient to stop the crimes committed against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Thus, the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and its Rules in 1995 were established by the Parliament in acknowledgment of the issues that were already in place.

Need for the SC/ST Atrocity Act

In the state and union territories, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are specified under Articles 342(1) and 366(25) of the Indian Constitution as a particular group of tribe or community that the President may proclaim at any time. To understand the need for the Act, here are a few pointers that explain the objective and the purpose of the Act:

  • The Act is the main piece of law designed to stop crimes against Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes from happening. The Act states that Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts must be formed to try those accused of committing these atrocities.
  • The Act provides for their free rehabilitation, travel, and maintenance costs, and gives officials the authority to make sure the act is carried out correctly.
  • The Act also aims to safeguard Dalits' rights in cases when criminal activity might jeopardize their social, economic, democratic, and political rights and to integrate them into society.
  • The Act helps marginalized populations avoid deprivation and tries to prevent it.

Key Provisions SC/ST Atrocity Act

For millennia, the caste system has been a fundamental part of Indian culture, leading to prejudice against certain groups based on their place of origin. Due to this prejudice, SCs and STs have experienced different types of violence, exploitation, and denial of fundamental rights. This was the primary factor that led to the creation of this act.

The following are some significant clauses and parts of this act:

What Are Atrocities Against SC/ST Communities?

Section 3 of the SC/ST Act defines the term "atrocity" as any of the following acts that include:

  • Intentionally insulting or intimidating a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe on the grounds of his or her social status;
  • Forcing a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe to do any act which he or she is prohibited by his or her religion or social customs from doing.
  • Forcing a member of SC/ST to drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance.
  • Subjecting a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe to cruelty or humiliation on account of his or her caste;
  • Wrongfully dispossessing a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe of any land or other property;
  • Defiling a place of worship dedicated to a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe;Denying the use of any well, spring, tank, bathing ghat, road, or place of public resort to a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe;

Offenses Punishable Under The Act

Section 14 refers to the creation of Special Courts to hear cases involving violations of the SC/ST Act. Courts designated especially for the trial of offenses under the Act are known as Special Courts. This clause is significant because it aims to guarantee that violations under the Act are prosecuted efficiently and promptly.

The Act specifies what constitutes an infraction when non-SC and ST actions are taken against SCs or STs. The Amendment Act creates new categories of activities that will be considered offenses and modifies some of the current ones. The Act has added new offenses, such as

  • garlanding footwear; 
  • Forcing someone to dispose of or carry human or animal carcasses or engage in manual scavenging; 
  • Abusing SCs or STs in public by referring to them by name; 
  • Trying to incite animosity towards SCs or STs or to treat any deceased person with disrespect, and (e) enforcing or threatening a social or economic boycott.

Special Provisions For Protection Of Victims And Witnesses

Section 10 is for the witness protection in cases under the SC/ST Act is covered by this clause. This implies that witnesses in instances covered by the Act have a right to several safeguards, including defense against assault and intimidation. This clause is significant because it aims to guarantee that witnesses can come forward and provide testimony in situations governed by the Act without worrying about facing retaliation.

Recent Amendments And Legal Developments

The Prevention of Atrocities (change) Act, 2015, a significant piece of legislation that broadens the scope of protection for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) in India, was the most recent change carried out in 2015.

The list of recently introduced crimes is as follows:

  • Taunting one's mustache, or head, or engaging in other offensive behavior.
  • Denying people access to rights to forests or irrigation systems.
  • Excavating graves, transporting or disposing of human or animal remains.
  • Scavenging manually or allowing it.
  • naming a female Devadasi.
  • Abuse motivated by caste.
  • Committing crimes related to witchcraft.
  • Enforcing economic or social boycotts.
  • Prohibiting candidates from the SC and ST from submitting nominations.
  • The removal of SC/ST women from their houses or apartments.
  • Contaminating items that SC/ST members hold precious.
  • Putting hands on or making sexually suggestive remarks, gestures, or acts against members of the SC/ST.

In addition to these enhancements, the following significant adjustments have been made:

  • After submitting the charge sheet, courts have the authority to take direct cognizance of offenses and strive to finish trials in two months.
  • This amendment establishes special courts with the express purpose of hearing complaints of discrimination against members of the SC and ST communities.
  • Defines "wilful negligence" clearly for all levels of public personnel.
  • Unless it can be demonstrated differently, it is assumed that the accused knows the victim's caste or tribal identification since they are friends or family.

The goal of the amendment is to address the persistent issue of discrimination in India based on caste. In 2017, the National Crime Records Bureau stated that over 44,000 incidents of atrocities against persons who identify as SC/ST had occurred. The purpose of the amendment is to guarantee that victims obtain justice and to facilitate the prosecution of these instances.

Legal Challenges And Controversies Surrounding The Act

Here are some of the legal challenges and controversies that are faced by the Act:

  • Rehabilitation Measures: The Act's meager measures for atrocity victims' rehabilitation provide obstacles to their social and financial recovery. In addition to their physical and psychological suffering, victims frequently experience insecurity and social humiliation. To facilitate their recovery, extra measures are needed, including financial support.
  • Lack of Awareness: Many Act beneficiaries are not aware of their rights, and the situation may be made worse by law enforcement authorities who may not be properly informed or who may apply the Act wrongly.
  • Coverage of Crimes: Despite their negative effects on SC/ST populations, some crimes, such as blackmailing, would not be considered atrocities under the Act. An amendment to the Act to encompass these types of offenses has been proposed.
  • Legal Interpretations: Court rulings in cases like Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. the State of Maharashtra have prompted concerns regarding how the Act should be applied, taking into account preliminary inquiries and anticipatory bail. Union of India v. State of Maharashtra, a different case, acknowledged the continuous fight for equality and civil rights among SC/ST people and maintained the stringent provisions of the Act to prevent dilution of its aims.

Latest Judgment Of Supreme Court On Atrocity Act

Here are a few judgments of the Supreme Court that have been very recently passed in the year 2023:

The Supreme Court dismissed an FIR filed under the SC/ST Act against the MD of GM Infinite Dwelling (India) Private Limited (GMID) and others in the matter of Sri Ghulam Mustafa Vs. Union of India (2023). The Court determined that the police authorities should exercise greater caution while enforcing the SC/ST Act since the FIR was filed improperly and they had not taken due diligence before doing so.

The Karnataka High Court decided in Shailesh Kumar v. State of Karnataka (2023) that a person cannot be found guilty under Section 3 of the SC/ST Act merely for mentioning the victim's caste unless there is proof that the victim was intentionally insulted or degraded because of their community affiliation. The court stressed that unless there is a deliberate attempt to denigrate or disparage the victim because of their caste identity, the mere mention of the victim's caste does not always amount to an infraction.


In conclusion, a key legislative foundation for preventing atrocities against India's marginalized SC/ST people is provided by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. This Act seeks to give Dalits and Adivasis, who have long faced prejudice and injustice, legal protection and to secure justice. It stems from a history of social and economic discrimination against them. The Act includes measures for victim rights protection, rehabilitation, and special courts. Its area of protection has also been expanded by recent modifications. Nevertheless, issues still exist, such as insufficient rehabilitation programs, recipients' ignorance, and loopholes in the coverage of certain offenses.


  1. Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, of 1989.
  2. Overview of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
  3. Contemporary Problems of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India.
  4. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
  5. Sri Ghulam Mustafa Vs. Union of India (2023)
  6. Shailesh Kumar v. State of Karnataka (2023)