Eleven families from the Telugu Madelwar Parit community lodged first FIR under Maharashtra's newly enacted Social Boycott Act against council members of the caste in Pune's Kondhwa police station on 17 July. The families lodged FIR against 17 members of the community’s caste council for boycotting them for reasons like inter caste marriages.
Maharashtra is the first and only state in India to enact a law preventing social boycott by caste councils. The Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2016 was drafted by the state government in 2015. The bill was sent for the approval of the central government in 2016 and has been waiting for the signature by the president. On 3 July, 2017, the president signed the bill converting it to a law.
Under the act, social boycott is a punishable offence which includes fine up to Rs 3 lakh and imprisonment up to seven years. Families, communities as well as individuals can now be punished under the law if they are found guilty. The reasons can be lifestyle, dress or vocation, religious rituals or inter-caste marriages, among others.
The law has provision of a speedy trial within six months. The government will have to appoint a social boycott provision officer who will assist the police and the judiciary to track social boycott cases.
The first FIR under the Social Boycott Act
Eleven families of the Telugu Madelwar Parit community, which has 700 families in Pune and around 120 of them are boycotted by the caste council, lodged FIR against members of their caste council on 17 July.
Rekha Indurkar, 40, homemaker and one of the complainant, said, "I belong to the Jain Marwadi community while my husband is from the Telugu Parit community. We married in 1996. But the caste council of the Telugu Parit community boycotted us from the caste. The council made sure that nobody from the caste would invite us for festivals, social programmes and even for the last rites of the community members. We have been going through mental torture for the last 20 years, and don’t want our kids to know about it or suffer due to this practice."
Fifty-one-year-old Umesh Rudrapa, an auto driver and another complainant in the case, said, "We had requested the council to take us back in the caste as our kids are grown up. They need to be married off, and we have to find matches from the community. But the members did not pay attention. We had no option but to approach the police. But, earlier the police didn't file any complaint due to a lack of law. When we came to know that the act has been forced, we decided to lodge FIR. We want the members to dissolve the council. They should listen instead of getting tried under the law."
Satish Govekar, police inspector, Kondhwa police station, Pune, said, “We have lodged FIR under Section III, IV and V of the Social Boycott Act. We have started to find out the accused in the case."
One more FIR under the act was lodged on 18 July against the Vaidu tribe caste council in Pune's Sangvi police station. Five members of Rambhau Lokhande family lodged FIR against 25 members of the caste council for boycotting them for nearly two years as they were opposed to hold the meeting of the council. Rambhau Lokhande, said, “We have been going through the worst situation due to boycott by almost all in the community. The caste council members threaten us that they will not allow marriage of our kids. When it became unbearable we decided to approach the police."
Efforts by MANS to bring the Social Boycott Act
Contrary to popular beliefs, caste councils exist not just in states like Punjab and Haryana but Maharashtra as well. But many in the state were unaware of their presence till in 2013, the Maharashtra Andhashradha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), a social organisation founded by social activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar, exposed the existence of caste councils in Maharashtra.
"The revelations shook the state," says Krishna Chandgude, chief of Jaat Panchayat Muthmati Abhiyan, a social drive that was launched by Dr Dabholkar to remove social boycott in Maharashtra. A rationalist, Dr Dabholkar was shot dead by two men on 20 August.
In one of the cases of social boycott, Chandgude says, a father killed his pregnant daughter on her birthday for marrying a person from another caste. "Later we exposed many cases and launched the drive to remove the social boycott. The goal of Jaat Panchayat Muthmati Abhiyan was to create awareness against the social boycott and ask the government to bring a law to ban boycotts and caste councils," he says.
Chandgude informs that the organisation lodged many complains of social boycotts, but the sections of the Indian Penal Code were insufficient to cover the term, and the accused would have to be freed. The state government later issued a resolution banning the boycott and 71 cases were registered under it. MANS continued to put pressure on the state government to bring a law banning social boycott.
"We put pressure to get it passed in the state Assembly and by the central government. We also followed up every month asking the state government to get the bill signed by the President," he adds.
Chandgude hopes that the law will bring an end to social boycotts and remove the caste council system which acts as a parallel judiciary.
Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 19:30 PM