Ramesh Dattu Hiranwale, 61, made a police complaint on Tuesday, alleging that he had been socially boycotted by the Veershaiva Lingayat Gawali community he belongs to since he married a Muslim girl in 1992. Following the complaint, police have booked 20 people, said to be members of caste panchayat of Hiranwale’s community, under a new Maharashtra law that seeks to protect people from social boycott.
In his complaint, Hiranwale said he was not allowed to attend his father’s funeral and was forced to marry a Hindu woman on the assurance that his social boycott would end. “I was also asked not be present for the engagement ceremony of my niece in December 2016,” he said. An advocate who no longer practises, Hiranwale told The Indian Express that he had fallen in love and married Shamshunnisa Khan, a girl living in his neighbourhood, on June 19, 1992.
“Soon, I was boycotted by my caste panchayat. I had to leave my ancestral home at Gawali Wada in Pune Camp. I started living at Shamshunnisa’s house. I requested the caste panchayat several times and even apologised to them. But the boycott continued… At one point, they assured me that they would stop the boycott if I married a Hindu woman. I was under pressure and got married to a Hindu girl from Pune. But even then, the boycott continued,” he alleged. “I came back to Shamshunnisa. She supported me. I was accepted by her family. They honour me by adding my name on the wedding cards of my Muslim relatives… I miss similar treatment by my own community. I do visit my ancestral house and meet my relatives. They do not hate me. But they are forced to maintain a distance due to the pressure from the caste panchayat,” Hiranwale said. He has also alleged that some caste panchayat members demanded money from him for lifting the social boycott.
He said he decided to speak up after the suicide of 48-year-old Arun Kisan Naikunji, who belonged to Hiranwale’s community, in August last year allegedly because of similar harassment by caste panchayat. Arun’s brother had alleged that the caste panchayat had ordered his boycott because he had helped someone marry a woman from a different caste. Arun’s son had even registered an FIR against some members of the caste panchayat for abetment of suicide, but the complaint was later withdrawn. Hiranwale said he had approached police in September last year, immediately after Arun’s death, complaining against the panchayat in his own case, but no FIR was registered. However, the situation changed a few days ago after the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), an organisation founded by slain rationalist Narendra Dabholkar that fights against superstitious practices, decided to take up Hiranwale’s case. Additionally, the police are now armed with a new law, the Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, which came into force on July 13, 2017.
On October 9, Nandini Jadhav, district president of MANS, wrote to the police, demanding investigation into Hiranwale’s case, and also into Arun’s suicide. On Tuesday, Pune police called MANS activists, Hiranwale and the 20 people he had named in his complaint. “After long discussions since 11 am in the morning, police decided to register an FIR,” Hiranwale said.
Meanwhile, the Veershaiva Lingayat Gawali Community Trust submitted a letter to Pune police commissioner in September last year, in the wake of Arun’s suicide, claiming that the caste panchayat had been abolished by the community in 1983. “No incidents of social boycott of any person from our community takes place,” the trust had claimed in its letter last year, which has been accessed by The Indian Express.
Shailendra Bidkar, one of the accused in Hiranwale’s complaint, claimed that the allegations of social boycott were false. “Our caste panchayat was abandoned in 1983. Last year, we felicitated Hiranwale in front of the police and his family members to spread the message that he was not being boycotted. But he is still filing false complaints,” Bidkar told The Indian Express, hours before the FIR was registered in the evening.
Shamshunnisa, a post-graduate and former school teacher, said she was not bothered about what the caste panchayat does. “I have moved on now and do not care at all about the caste panchayat. I have a good family and neighbourhood where I live with respect. But I do feel that we all are human beings and incidents like social boycott should not happen. I am happy that my family has accepted my husband,” she said.