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Major Victory for the Anti Caste Movement in Maharashtra

"We believe caste to be superstition, it holds no logic" - Avinash Patil

Dr. Narendra Dabholkar

In India, social boycott is an extrajudicial form of punishment, used to perpetuate caste and religion-based discrimination. But that’s about to change; at least in one state.

On 13 July 2017, President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to the ‘Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act’, 2016. This Act is the first law in India meant to punish social boycott, and will regulate organisations like the caste Panchayats.

The act lists over a dozen types of actions that can be considered acts of social boycott. The act will make social boycott a criminal offence - punishable with imprisonment forup to three years or a fine of Rs. 1 lakh or both. If guilty, families, communities and individuals will now be punished under this law. The Act makes provisions for six-month long speedy trials. It also provides for a state-government-appointed, Social Boycott Prohibition officers to ‘assist the police and magistrate’ and to track cases of social boycott.

Reasons for social boycott include religious rituals, inter-caste marriage, lifestyle, dress or vocation. The victim can file a complaint either with the police or directly to the magistrate.The Act recognizes the varied forms in which social boycott occurs in a caste-based society. 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.

The Force behind the Law

The murder of a 22 year old pregnant woman, Pramila Khumbharkar, laid the foundation for the movement demanding this act. Belonging to a nomadic tribe, she was killed by her father for marrying Deepak Kamble who belonged to a Scheduled Caste. The issue was highlighted in an article by Dr. Narendra Dabholkar.

Dr. Dabholkar, a medical doctor turned social worker, started Maharashtra Andhrashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS),in 1989, to help eradicate superstition. MANS was a state-wide movement targeting god-men and superstitious practices.

For the last 4 years in Maharashtra, MANS has also been running a movement against Social boycotts. It began the 'Jaat Panchayatila Muthmatil Abhiyan', a campaign to put an end to caste-based extra-judicial bodies.The organisation received around 80 complaints from various castes and sub-caste groups a while after the campaign’s initiation. MANS worked to create awareness and root out the inhibitions and fear of those facing social boycott.

“We approached the High Court to put an end to these atrocities. That is when we realized that there was no law to prevent or punish this," said Avinash Patil, President, MANS.

“We had formulated a draft to be pushed as the new law and submitted it to the government. The state government also made its own draft bill. The new law that has been passed is after taking both drafts into consideration. 80% of our draft has been included in the Act.” Patil told Newsclick.

“Within a week of the Act being in place, there have already been two complaints in Pune and one in Mumbai. To make sure this law is implemented and people know of it, we (MANS) are planning an awareness campaign for next year.” He added.

In a country where men and women are emotionally and physically tortured without a second thought, for not abiding to ‘social norms’, it is surprising that there has been no pre-existing law criminalizing such absurdities.

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