Maharashtra law now prohibits social boycott of a person by caste panchayats

Maharashtra law now prohibits social boycott of a person by caste panchayats

Mumbai,July13:The five-year crusade by anti-superstition activists has finally borne positive results with Maharashtra becoming the first state in the country to implement an Act, which prohibits social boycott of a person or a group of people by caste panchayats.

The Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, came into force on July 4 when it was published in the official state gazette. Any person found guilty under the provisions of the Act will be liable for maximum punishment of three years in jail and Rs 1lakh fine.

The Act describes “caste panchayat” as a committee or a body formed by a group of persons belonging to any community, whether registered or not, which functions within the community to regulate various practices in the same community, controls personal and social behaviour of any member and collectively resolves or decides any disputes amongst their members including their families, by issuing oral or written dictums.

It defines a victim as “any individual who has suffered or experienced physical, mental, psychological, emotional or monetary harm or harm to his property as a result of the commission of social boycott and includes his relatives, legal guardian and legal heirs.”

The Act further defines social boycott as following actions by an unlawful assembly of people: obstruction of any member of the community from observing any social or religious ceremonies, preventing from participating in social, religious or community functions, preventing the right to perform marriage, funeral or any other religious rites, committing any form of social ostracism, stopping anyone from accessing a community or religious public place or using any educational, medical institution, community hall, cemetery or burial ground intended for the benefit of the community.

It also allows the government to designate “Social Boycott Prohibition Officers” to take legal action against caste panchayats. It also makes aiding or abetting the offence punishable with the same terms and allows the victim or any member of his family to lodge a complaint either through the police or directly to the Magistrate.

The Act also mandates that the trial in such cases be completed within a period of six months from the date of filing of the charge sheet.

According to the provisions of the Act, the Collector or District Magistrate can take action on information that a caste panchayat is scheduled to be held. It also empowers Social Boycott Prohibition Officer to detect or report such cases to the magistrate, assist police officers and report to the court.

Hailing the Act, Avinash Patil, executive president of Maharashtra Andhshradha Nirmulan Samiti, said, “We welcome the long-pending reform. We had a meeting with government officials and have requested them to include a provision of financial compensation for the victims of social boycott in the Act.”

Maharashtra has witnessed several cases of social boycotts, cruel punishments and fines imposed by caste panchayats, which are similar to the khap panchayats of Haryana.