ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Opposing Social Boycott

Maharashtra's draft law to curb social boycott is welcome but it needs to be strengthened.

The notoriety of the actions of North India’s khap panchayats has overshadowed the sizeable number of cases of social boycott ordered by caste panchayats in Maharashtra. Known as the gaavki system, it is a gathering of villagers with long-standing roots and influence in the area. There have been increasing ­reports of individuals, families, and even caste groups being ­socially boycotted over acts seen by the larger community as breaking taboos or even misdemeanours under traditional customs. The Maharashtra government has now drafted the Maharashtra Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill, 2015, that is yet to be introduced in the state legislative assembly. Although there are inadequacies in the draft bill, the general view is that the legislation is very much required. The murdered rationalist Narendra ­Dabholkar was in the forefront of the demand for such a law. In 2013 the Bombay High Court, while hearing a petition by two victims from Raigad District, directed the state government to draw up a law against such boycotts. It also asked the government to direct police stations across the state to treat such cases as criminal offences.

The draft bill defines a “caste panchayat” as a committee made up of a group of persons belonging to any community, registered or not, which regulates practices in that community, controls personal and social behaviour and collectively resolves the dis­agreements of and amongst its members through oral or written statements. The offences under the law would be cognisable, bailable and can be sent to trial. A specially appointed social boycott prohibition officer will detect such offences and assist the magistrate and police officers involved in handling such cases. The draft law defines “community” as made up of members connected through religion, caste and sub-caste and a social boycott as a gesture or act, oral or written, of social discrimination. A boycott will cover an act preventing or denying members from conducting or participating in any social, religious, economic or community functions. Any gathering that meets to discuss the imposition of a social boycott will be considered an unlawful assembly. The trial should be completed within six months of the charge sheet being filed. The draft legislation calls for seven years of imprisonment or a fine of Rs 5 lakh or both if the order of a social boycott is proved. With the victim and court’s consent, however, the convicts can be ordered to do community service.

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