The Maharashtra government’s Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill got the assent of President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday, paving the way for the state to strictly enforce the Act with a larger objective of uprooting social evils in
the name of caste panchayats.
Maharashtra is the first state in the country to formulate a law to punish social boycott. Punishment for an offence under the Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill includes a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh and imprisonment of up to seven years or both. While stating the aims of the bill, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said: “There cannot be any compromise on human dignity which is supreme. In a progressive state like Maharashtra, which has a glorious legacy of social reforms, there cannot be any tolerance of a social menace that attacks the very basic fundamentals of humanity.”
Before introducing the Bill for debate and passage in the state legislature, he had held a series of deliberations with various social organisations and political leaders across parties to evolve a broad consensus. According to the Act, social boycott will be treated as a crime and individuals or groups or families or communities indulging in such activity would invite stern action.
Although there are provisions in existing laws, social boycott was not clearly defined which often saw perpetrators using loopholes to escape punishment. The cabinet had unanimously approved the draft Bill on March 1, 2016.
Initially, several cabinet ministers representing the Shiv Sena had raised objections as they were worried it would interfere with the age-old traditions or rituals and religion.
However, several misplaced apprehensions were clarified in subsequent meetings before it was adopted in the cabinet and the legislature.
It was categorically stated that social boycott for reasons such as religious rituals, inter-caste marriage, lifestyle, dress or vocation would also invite stringent punishment. There is a provision for victims or any member of the victim’s family to file a complaint either with the police or directly to the magistrate.
To facilitate time-bound results, it stressed on speedy trial within six months of filing of the chargesheet. A monitoring mechanism has been provided through social boycott prohibition officers to detect offences and assist the magistrate and police officers in tackling cases.