The Madras High Court Bench here on Tuesday stayed the trial in a criminal case in which a Caste Hindu was accused of setting his Dalit employee on fire at Melur Taluk near here on January 14, 2000.

A Division Bench of Justice D. Murugesan and Justice S. Nagamuthu granted the interim stay following a public interest litigation petition filed by a lawyer alleging that the police had not investigated the case properly.

The petitioner, R. Venkatesan, said that A. Kallanai of Kidaripatti Harijan Colony in Melur was employed as a tractor driver under a Caste Hindu some nine years back. Then, his daily wage of Rs. 50 was not paid for nearly six months.

The employer, with the help of another, tied the limbs of the Dalit employee, poured kerosene and set him ablaze when he visited their house and demanded arrears of wages, the petitioner alleged.

A case under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code as well as the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was registered on the basis of a statement given by the victim.

Petitioner’s counsel P. Rathinam claimed that after the registration of the case, the police deviated from the course of investigation and altered the offence from Section 307 to 336 (act endangering life of others) of the IPC.

The prosecution claimed that the victim had actually attempted to misbehave with his employer’s wife. He sustained burn injuries when she pushed him towards a stove and also poured kerosene over him.

Subsequently, the case was altered once again to Section 304A (causing death by negligence). On February 26, 2001, the then Deputy Superintendent of Police M. Manohar (now Superintendent of Police) filed a charge sheet against the woman.

“I state that the deviated investigation has resulted in such a charge sheet. The relatives of the deceased are helpless… This is the social situation prevailing in very many villages in Tamil Nadu,” the affidavit of the petitioner read.

He sought for a reinvestigation in the case by the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department besides payment of relief amount of Rs. 2 lakh to the wife of the deceased as was stipulated under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

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