The Himachal Pradesh High Court on Friday ruled that mentioning the caste of accused, victims or witnesses in criminal trials should be immediately stopped and directed the state’s Home Secretary to frame guidelines for the investigating agencies to forthwith stop identifying of the accused, witnesses or victims by their caste.
“Mentioning of caste/status separately in the criminal proceedings is a colonial legacy and should be stopped forthwith. Right to dignity is a fundamental right, a basic human right. Human dignity is one of the basic features of the Constitution, which guarantees a casteless and classless society. Segmentation of the society into groups can not be determined by birth as all are born equal”, said the High Court in a 19-page judgment.
The court added, “We should, as a public policy, shun the caste system.” The observations were made by a division bench comprising Justices Rajiv Sharma and Sureshwar Thakur while dismissing an appeal filed by a life-term convict Krishan Kumar, who had set ablaze a young girl, Kalpana Kumari, after entering her house in Kangra district in August 2013.
The girl had apparently refused to marry Kumar. The victim died nine days after the incident. The trial court at Dharamshala had sentenced the accused to life imprisonment, apart from imposing a fine of Rs 2 lakh – This judgment was upheld by the High Court Friday.
The bench, making strong observations to invoke constitutional provisions, wrote “However, before parting with the judgment, it will be pertinent to mention that the police in inquest report, statement recorded under Section 154 CrPC, recovery memo and dying declaration have separately stated the caste of the accused as well as of the victim. This is not permissible.”
The court ruled that the expression “right to life,” includes the right to live with human dignity. “It is the bounden duty of the state not only to protect the human dignity but to facilitate it by taking positive steps in that direction,” the judgment said.
Asking Principal Secretary (Home) to issue instructions to all the investigating officers in Himachal Pradesh, the court directed that they should stop immediate the practice of mentioning the caste of the accused, victims or witnesses in recovery memos, FIRs, seizure memos, inquest papers and other forms prescribed under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and Punjab Police Rules.
By Dhriti Sharma