Pune: Since it was implemented in July 2017, only ten FIRs have been registered under the Social Boycott Act over the past three years. Though incidents of social boycott are higher, a lack of effort by the Maharashtra government to sensitise the police about the law is the reason for less FIRs, activists say.
It was the late Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, an anti-superstition crusader, who began a campaign against the social boycott of people by jati panchayats. The state’s hand was forced in the aftermath of Dabholkar’s murder just over seven years ago.
Social Boycott Act
The Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, implemented in July 2017, was intended to prevent social boycott in the name of caste, custom, religion, rituals and so on. If the crime is proven, the accused can be sentenced to a maximum of three years of imprisonment or a fine of Rs one lakh.
“Ten FIRs have been lodged under the Social Boycott Act across the state since its implementation, though we do not have a record of the status of cases in courts,” said Prakash Gaikwad, Superintendent of Statistics at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
Aishwarya Bhat and Vivek Tamichikar, both of whom are from the Kanjarbhat community, had opposed the virginity test of brides conducted on the first night of the wedding. The community did not allow her to participate in the next Navratri festival in October 2018.
“That night, I had gone to lodge an FIR against the jati panchayat under the Social Boycott Act at Pimpri police station. However, officials were unaware of the act. I later took help of a MANS (Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti) activist who shared a copy of the act with police. Activists reached the police station and explained the same to the police. An FIR was lodged after six to eight hours at 4 a.m. the next morning. No charge sheet has been filed in court after one and half years,” said Bhat.
“Jati panchayat had boycotted the last rituals of my grandmother Romalabai, who died in May 2019. In this case the police contacted us after the media reported on the matter and lodged an FIR – they were cooperative. But, the charge sheet is yet to be filed in this case,” Tamichikar told NewsClick.
Anil Shinde, a sub-inspector in the customs department from Shivade, is having a hard time lodging an FIR against an organisation of his community, the Nathpanthi Davari, in Mumbai. On August 13, 2020, Vijay Jadhav, the head of the Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Nathpanthi Samaj Mahasangh, accused Shinde before members of the community. Shinde said, “He says my father had three wives and I belong to the Magi Samaj, meaning people should not marry into my family.” He added that he had lodged a “complaint on August 16 at Kharwadi police station in Bandra. But the police avoided lodging an FIR against the organisation under the Social Boycott Act.”
According to Krishna Chandgude, who leads the social boycott campaign for MANS, the state needs to “sensitise” the police about the act and the idea of social boycott itself. “When victims reach a police station to lodge an FIR, the cops don’t understand how boycott can be a crime. When the police then investigates the case to lodge an FIR, members of the community do not accept the accusation. The police are unable to get the true picture from witnesses either and end up not having enough proof to lodge an FIR,” he said.
Dr. Dabholkar, who founded MANS in 2012-13, began the campaign to ban social boycott of a person or a family by jati panchayats. He was killed by two unknown assailants on August 20, 2013. After widespread criticism, the state government had drafted the bill in 2015 and passed it in the state assembly in 2016. The act was implemented in July 2017 after the President gave his assent.
“The state government should have appointed a Prohibition of Social Boycott Officer in each district who would assist victims and the police and create awareness about the act. No such officer has been deployed over the past three years,” Chandgude said.
“At least between 30 and 40 incidents of social boycott take place across the state every month, but the number of FIRs being lodged are minuscule. The state has 48 nomadic and de-notified tribes and all have jait panchayats. Many SCs and OBCs castes also have them. After the act came into effect, these panchayats hold meetings in remote areas and boycott families or persons who do not follow community rules. They are not at all scared of the law,” said Krishna Indrekar, who defied the Kanjarbhat jati panchayat’s rule of a virginity test when he married his wife 21 years ago.
Fifty-one-year-old Umesh Rudrap, was boycotted by a jati panchayat of his Telugu Madelwar Parit community on July 17, 2017. He had lodged the first FIR under this act against 17 panches.
Kutpelli Chandraram, an activist from the community who helped him lodge the FIR, said: “Over the last 25 years, jati panchayat have boycotted over 76 families for inter-caste marriages. All these families could not attend community events and marriage celebrations.
He said: “Jati panchayats refused to take these families back until we revoked the FIR. A charge sheet was filed and the cross examination of witnesses is on in Shivajinagar Court. However, I feel that the panch, who are economically powerful, have managed the case,” he alleged.
“In fact the state should have lodged FIRs against housing societies and colonies that were boycotting doctors and healthcare staff working at COVID-19 facilities. Many such cases were being reported in the initial months of pandemic.”