A first of its kind, this new law in India holds a promise to punish the guilty of social boycotts in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, and is being seen as first step towards a casteless India by some.
It is not uncommon to find an Indian daily run a news of a couple being abducted for inter-cast marriage or even being murdered; some cases have also had the couple committing suicide due to peer pressure or fear of being caught and later tortured and killed in the name of honour killing.
Developing personal relations outside one’s caste or religion continues to be seen as a crime by many communities in rural India, where discrimination on grounds of one’s ethnicity remains a common act; and as result of an underlying hatred, the alleged ‘criminals’ are often boycotted, socially.
Many a times, individuals are also socially boycotted for their lifestyle choices which include practicing or not practicing a particular religion, or choosing to dress in a particular fashion.
But a wave of change just took over the western Indian state of Maharashtra, where for the first time in India, an act was passed against this social menace.
On July 13, 2017, the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to the Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016. A first of its kind in the country, the law punishes social boycott and regulates organisations like the jat or caste panchayats.
Communities, individuals and families preaching the malpractice will now be under the radar of the law and be entitled to punishment. The act rules INR 500,000 fine and /or a punishment of upto seven years on members of extrajudicial bodies who issue decrees for social boycott. The act ensures speedy justice by providing for conclusion on any case with six months of its opening, and provides for a state government-appointed Social Boycott Prohibition officers to ‘assist the police and magistrate’ and track cases of social boycott.
Avinash Patil, state executive president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) asserted an Indian web portal that exploitation is prevalent in Maharashtra with caste panchayats punishing dalits (minorities) for acts like drawing water from a well, and the implementation of the act shall bear positive result.