A rationalist outfit in Chhattisgarh has launched a statewide campaign demanding that the practice of ‘social boycott’ be declared a crime and a law enacted against it. “We have planned to stage dharna in all 27 districts of the state in support of our demand to introduce an Act prohibiting social boycott and ensure justice to the victims of this menace,” city-based Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti’s chairperson Dinesh Mishra said.
“So far we have covered capital Raipur and Bilaspur district headquarters where people who have suffered or are suffering the brunt of social boycott also took part in the dharna,” he said.
A Raipur-based ophthalmologist, Mishra has been engaged in the battle against social evils, including superstition and blackmagic, since the past two decades.
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He had also spearheaded the movement which led to the introduction of Witchcraft Atrocities (Prevention) Act in 2005 in Chhattisgarh, to eliminate the locally known ‘Tonhi’ cult, (branding a woman as witch and witchcraft practitioner).
As per reply under RTIs, neither the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) nor the state government have statistics of social boycott cases despite a large number of individuals and families leading ostracised lives, Mishra said.
Surprisingly, a general survey by the samiti claimed that atleast 25,000 individuals or families were facing social boycott imposed by local caste/community groups or panchayat bodies due to several reasons, like inter-caste marriage, not following diktats of community heads and raising voice against orthodox beliefs, he said.
Such boycotted individuals and their families had to live in isolation in the village or society as no one is allowed to talk to them and not exchange anything with them.
They are not allowed to use hand pumps or ponds and are restricted from participating in village gatherings and procuring ration from local grocery shops, Mishra said, adding that many a times they are ostracised from their native place.
Moreover, community panchayats also impose heavy fines or physical punishment on the boycotted families to withdraw restrictions imposed on them, he said.
Cases of suicides, murder, exploitation and migration due to social boycott frequently appear in media not only from remote parts but also from Raipur and other cities. However, owing to lack of a competent law against it, justice is denied to the victims of such menace, Mishra rued.
Though the movement to eliminate social boycott was kicked-off long back by the samiti, the efforts seeking a law against it were being made since past one year, he said.
Mishra has written to the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and other central and state authorities along with Commissions urging them to address the demand.
Recently, he submitted memorandums to Chhattisgarh Governor Balramji Das Tandon, Chief Minister Raman Singh and Assembly Speaker Gaurishankar Agrawal requesting for enactment of a law against the practice social boycott.
“We have got assurance from the state government that they will look into the issue,” he claimed.
A senior official in the state Public Relations department said the Chhattisgarh government is serious on the issue and looking at all options.
“It (the law) is not going to come immediately . But this is something the government is looking at seriously,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.
Notably, Maharashtra became the first state in the country to pass the Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill in April this year which seeks to crack down on extra-judicial bodies such as caste and community panchayats.
Like Mishra’s outfit, Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, founded by late rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, is campaigning for a law to check the exploitation of people’s superstitions in Maharashtra for a long time.
Dabholkar was murdered on August 20, 2013.