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Victory for Dabholkar & Maharashtra: State criminalises social boycott & Jaat Panchayats

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 14 July 2017, 17:16 IST
Narendra Dabholkar (PTI)

Narendra Dabholkar would have been happy with this news: Maharashtra has become the first state in India to criminalise social boycott and Jaat Panchayats (caste councils).

On Thursday, President Pranab Mukherjee approved the Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, finalised in 2016. This can be seen as a victory for slain Dabholkar's Andhrashddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANS), which initiated the movement to curb social discrimination and social boycott.

With the Act formally in place, a social boycott would be deemed a criminal offence in Maharashtra, punishable with three years' imprisonment and/or a fine of Rs 1 Lakh.

Jaat Panchayats?

Caste councils have been a serious social problem for ages in Maharashtra. Many families have underwent tremendous trauma due to eccentric orders passed by Jaat Panchayats.

Dabholkar launched a movement against the social evil, but could not make significant headway in the formation of the Act during his lifetime, despite following it up with the officials and ministers concerned. He was murdered on 20 August 2013 in Pune.

The movement gained momentum after he was shot dead. The state Assembly passed the law unanimously last year.

“This is the victory of the movement launched by Dr Dabholkar. The five-year long battle that continued even after the assassination of Dr Dabholkar has resulted in the enactment of the law. In my opinion, it is just a beginning. The implementation of the Act will the real test. Because the victims are too scared to speak against Jaat Panchayat and the latter is too adamant to pay heed to the Act. It will be a tough task. A lot of public awareness would be required for effective implementation of the Act. ANS volunteers would help the government in all possible manner to ensure the desired implementation of the Act,” said Mukta Dabholkar, who is now heading the Maharashtra ANS.

The extra-judicial Jaat Panchayats have been delivering ‘justice’ in almost all the social matters pertaining to their caste. The Jaat Panchayat would even order social boycott in the name of resolving community issues and delivering justice.

The Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2006 provides for three years imprisonment and/or fine of Rs 1 lakh to the person for direct or indirect involvement in the social boycott, instigating social boycott, participation in the Jaat Panchayat meetings to deliver justice on social matters.

“This is definitely a historic moment for Maharashtra, and also the country for that matter. Social discrimination based on caste or religion needs to be uprooted from society. And this Act will help in that. We hope that it will bring about social reform,” said Adv Aseem Sarode, who was part of the team that drafted the law.

However, Sarode feels that the Act will not be effective and its desired implementation will not be possible unless and until the rules are formed. But, none the less, this Act has created legal space for the victims of social injustice in the name of caste.

“All the government agencies, including the police and the judiciary need to be sensitised to handle the cases of caste discrimination. Police need to keep their minds open to such complaints and invoke relevant sections of the IPC as well as per the demand of situation and nature of the crime. In case, if any Jaat Panchayat has imposed a hefty fine on the victims, then the police can explore possibilities of invoking anti-extortion rules. But all this will depend on their training before the actual implementation of the Act,” Sarode said.

Referring to the provision of punishment, Sarode added – “It was suggested that the punishment be kept minimum five years so that the case could be referred to fast track court for speedy disposal.”

“But it was reduced to three years which means prolonged litigations. Since it is collective, aggressive authoritative use of Jaat Panchayat, and not a general crime, there are possibilities that the facts will be concealed and the victim might not get concrete evidence. The police will have to consider the process in these crimes which suggest cruelty and severity of the crime. With maximum punishment of three years, police will have to prepare a water tight case and a lot will depend on how the FIR is filed,” he pointed out.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 13 July 2017, 18:04 IST