Casteist Slurs on Social Media Will Be Punishable, Says Delhi HC

Though the ruling is with regard to Facebook, it will likely extend to social media platforms like WhatsApp.  

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Casteist Slurs on Social Media Will Be Punishable, Says Delhi HC

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In a landmark ruling, the Delhi High Court said, on 3 July, that any offensive post on social media that targets an individual of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes community will be punishable by law.

The High Court ruled that the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 will be put into force against casteist slurs on social media.

Though the ruling is with regard to Facebook in particular, it will likely extend to social media platforms like WhatsApp that have closed privacy settings, reported The Times of India.

In his ruling, Justice Vipin Sanghi said:

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.

“Public view” as Justice Sanghi clarified, is "a place where public persons are present – howsoever small in number they may be".

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 made the observation while hearing a case by a Dalit woman against the Rajput wife of her husband’s brother.

The complainant said the Rajput woman was using abusive and offensive language against her community and alleged that “she used bad words for Dhobis".

The Rajput woman, however, said that the posts were put on her personal Facebook wall and that she never referred to the Dalit woman by name. The comment was a general statement made against women of the Dhobi community and not against a specific person, she argued.

Key Takeaways From the Judgement

  • Delhi HC has held that a Facebook wall (whether set to private or public), can be a “place within public view” for the limited purposes of section 3(1)(x) of the SC/ST Atrocities Act, if a post on the wall/timeline is viewed by someone without a close relationship or association with the complainant.
  • Offence not constituted in this particular case, as it is essential that the complainant prove that such a person have viewed it. A general slur towards a community wouldn’t fall foul of the law anyway, has to be specific to a particular member of an SC/ST community.
  • May be arguable that this applies to other digital services such as Whatsapp, but this judgment deals with FB specifically. Even if applicable to any other messaging service or social media, the same test would have to be satisfied, which is tougher in those circumstances.

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Topics:  Social Media   SC/ST Act 

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