In Maharashtra, a New Law Against Social Boycott Holds Promise

Why in news?

The Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, received Presidential assent last week, paving the way for its implementation.

The new law disallows social boycott in the name of caste, community, religion, rituals or customs. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said that a “progressive state like Maharashtra” cannot allow social evils in the garb of caste panchayat diktats or rituals.

What amount to social boycott under the new law?

If any individual or group tries to prevent or obstruct another member or group from observing any social or religions custom or usage or ceremony, or from taking part in a social, religious or community function, assembly, congregation, meeting or procession, the act amounts to social boycott.

So is challenging the freedom of individuals in the name of jati panchayats, religion, customs, or denying them the right to practise a profession of their choice.

Freedom in this case includes the freedom to marry outside one’s caste, visit places of worship, wear clothes of one’s choice and use any specific language. Discrimination on the basis of morality, political inclination or sexuality also qualifies as social boycott. As does stopping children from playing in a particular space, or disallowing access to crematoria, burial grounds, community halls or educational institutions with mala fide intentions.

How does the Act seek to prevent social boycott?

A Collector or District Magistrate, on receiving information of the likelihood of unlawful assembly for imposition of social boycott can, by order, prohibit the assembly. Conviction of the offence of social boycott will attract a prison term of up to three years or a fine up to Rs 1 lakh, or both. Abetment by an individual or group will invite the same punishment. The offence of social boycott is cognisable and bailable, and will be tried by a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate First Class. To ensure speedy justice, trial would have to be completed within a period of six months from the date of filing the chargesheet.

Necessary of such a law:

The decision was a reaction to pressures from growing incidents of atrocities on individuals by jati panchayats or gavkis wielding extra-judicial powers.

The highest number of incidents was reported from the districts of Raigad, Ratnagiri and Nashik; and the largest number of cases of social boycott was provoked by inter-caste marriages. The Act was required in the backdrop of prevailing atrocities inflicted on people in the name of tradition, caste and community. Social boycott will be dealt with an iron hand. The atrocities inflicted by a handful of people in the name of jaati panchayats or groups citing caste and community traditions will not be tolerated if it questions the dignity of a human being.

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