Insights into Editorial :Maharashtra’s Law on Social Boycott

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Insights into Editorial :Maharashtra’s Law on Social Boycott


 

Maharashtra’s Law on Social Boycott

 

caste-boycott

Summary:

The Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, received Presidential assent last month, paving the way for its implementation. The new law disallows social boycott in the name of caste, community, religion, rituals or customs. The law targets the pernicious practice of informal caste panchayats or dominant sections using ostracism as a means of enforcing social conformity.

 

What is social boycott?

It defines social boycott as any intra-community act that creates impediments in the observance of social or religious customs, obstructs marriages or funerals by community rites, ostracises socially or commercially, denies access to public services or places of worship, incites severing of ties, segregates children, discriminates on the basis of “morality, social acceptance, political inclination, sexuality,” etc; forces or obstructs the wearing of a particular dress or use of language or similar acts, culminating in social boycott.

 

Highlights of the law:

  • The Act lists over a dozen types of actions that may amount to ‘social boycott’, which has been made a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment up to three years or a fine of ₹1 lakh or both.
  • The practices it prohibits range from preventing the performance of a social or religious custom, denial of the right to perform funerals or marriages, cutting off someone’s social or commercial ties to preventing access to educational or medical institutions or community halls and public facilities, or any form of social ostracism on any ground.
  • The law recognises the human rights dimension to issues of social boycott, as well as the varied forms in which it occurs in a caste-based society.
  • Its progressive sweep takes into account discrimination on the basis of morality, social acceptance, political inclination, sexuality, which it prohibits.
  • It even makes it an offence to create cultural obstacles by forcing people to wear a particular type of clothing or use a particular language.

 

Why was it felt necessary to have such a law in Maharashtra?

The decision was a reaction to pressures from growing incidents of atrocities on individuals by jati panchayats or gavkis wielding extra-judicial powers. The Act was required in the backdrop of prevailing atrocities inflicted on people in the name of tradition, caste and community. Prevailing laws are also frequently challenged in the court, or loopholes are used to escape punishment.

 

What’s missing in the new law?

  • There is no denying the fact that the act strips off a range of powers exercised by caste panchayats. However, the act’s sole focus on the phenomenon of social boycott, which though important, is limiting as it is not the only lever on which the power of caste panchayats is hinged.
  • The act’s definition of social boycott and the methods of operationalising it will lead it to cover only the caste panchayats of the lower classes and castes which are easier to identify and pin down as they come across as glaringly primeval, violent and repulsive to the modern sensibility.
  • Identifying caste panchayats by the nature of their crimes rather than the kind of power they exercise, which can always be modified into a benign settlement with the law, is a challenge the act has receded from. This leads to a range of crimes under social boycott determining what caste panchayats are, rather than the other way round.
  • The act has no provision for special protection or compensation and rehabilitation of victims.
  • The act neither deals with the question of inter-caste/inter-community/inter-religious marriages clearly, nor takes a position on collective caste panchayats which are not intra-caste affairs.

 

Way ahead:

It is needless to say that caste panchayats exist in all castes whether in the name of gaavkis and panchayats in the villages or in the more sophisticated and regularised forms of the mahasabhas, sanghas, mandals, guilds, or rakshak dals, of the upper castes in the cities. The latter exercise control over the larger community capital in the form of religious buildings, educational institutions and hospitals; whose leadership and membership requires caste puritanism; they also control employment avenues and imply covert methods of regulating social behaviour. From the tenor of the new law it is clear that these are not under the scanner. This also reinforces the point that though respite from the horrors of social boycott is necessary, this does not guarantee respite from the ghost of caste/community based panchayats. Nevertheless, this act is the first, and an important, step in pointing out the problems with parallel systems of justice dispensation that derive their authority from tradition, respect for “public” (mob) sentiment or the autonomy of community logic.

 

Conclusion:

It is not a proud moment for a country when special legislation is required to prohibit social discrimination, ostracism and practices repugnant to human dignity. Yet, given the prevailing circumstances, any legislative assault on abhorrent social practices ought to be welcomed. The law may serve as a template for similar legislation in other States.