A Pune-based woman from the Kanjarbhat community and her family have alleged that they are facing a “social boycott” after she refused to let the community’s ‘jaat (caste) panchayat’ resolve a property dispute.
The ‘jaat panchayat’ allegedly also issued a diktat declaring that “women have no rights over their ancestral property.”
Suhani alias Rita Kumbhar (32), a resident of Dhankawadi in Pune city, has lodged the first information report (FIR) in this case at the Saswad police station against seven persons, including members of the alleged ‘jaat panchayat’.
The property issues surfaced after Rita’s father Manoj Kumbhar died of Covid-19 on August 17 this year.
“Some property that belonged to Rita’s father had been rented out. After his death, her mother Nanda started collecting the rent…..Her father was also in a relationship with another woman, with whom he had two children… so, there are some property-related issues….,” said Rita’s husband Vikas Kumbhar.
According to the FIR, in the last two months, some of the ‘panchayat’ members called Nanda and directed her to be present before a ‘jaat panchayat’ meet to sort out the property issues. “When Nanda refused, one of the accused, Suresh Binavat, allegedly got angry and verbally abused her, due to which her health collapsed,” the FIR states.
Rita recorded a video, in which she abused Suresh Binavat and said her mother should not be harassed over property-related matters. Rita circulated this video on WhatsApp groups comprising members of the Kanjarbhat community.
In the FIR, Rita said in reply to this video, a message called ‘jahir notice’, allegedly issued by Suresh Binavat, was posted on the WhatsApp group, which mentioned that persons and office-bearers from the ‘Bhatu Samaj’ have been called to Raj Lila Mangal Karyaklay in Garade village (in Purandar taluka) on November 11 at 2 pm. The ‘notice’ directed Rita and her sister to remain present at the meeting, and tender an apology in front of all ‘Bhatu Samaj’ for abusing him (Suresh). The message also warned of a “strong decision” if they didn’t tender an apology.
According to the FIR, the ‘Bhatu Samaj Panchayat’ meeting was held at Garade village on November 3, where orders to “boycott” Rita and her family were allegedly passed. Videos showing the accused issuing this diktat were reportedly recorded and circulated on WhatsApp groups of the community.
These videos, submitted to the police, allegedly show the accused saying that Rita, her sister, mother, husband and in-laws have been “boycotted” from the community for one year.
“If they want to come back to the community, they will have to give Rs 1 lakh, five liquor bottles and five bokad (male goats) as fine within one year, or else they will be boycotted forever,” the video purportedly shows the ‘panchayat’ members as saying.
In the videos, the accused allegedly state, “Women have no rights over their ancestral property. If they go to the courts (for seeking property) they will be boycotted forever from the community. Those helping them in court matters will also be boycotted….They will not be allowed to marry within the community and will not be invited for any community functions”
Rita initially lodged a complaint in this regard at the Bharati Vidyapeeth police station in Pune city on November 20. Later, the case was transferred to Saswad police station on November 29 as the alleged ‘caste panchayat’ meeting was held at Garade village, which is in its jurisdiction .
Police have booked the accused — identified as Suresh Binavat, Nandu Rajput, Sampat Binavat, Munna Kachravat, Anand Binavat, Devidas Chavan and Devanand Kumbhar — under sections of the Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016.
When contacted, Suresh Binavat said he has been hospitalised for unspecified ailments, and the case against him and the others was false.
No arrest has been made in connection with the case yet, said Police Inspector Annasaheb Gholap of Saswad police station.
“The caste panchayat is operated under the guise of Bhatu Samaj Trust. There are courts for solving property disputes. The caste panchayat has no authority to look into property issues,” said Krushna Indrekar, a senior government officer who belongs to the Kanjarbhat community.
Nandini Jadhav of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, an organisation which works against superstitions and regressive rituals, said, “We are helping the complainants. Police should investigate the case properly.”
The Samiti was founded by slain rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar.
Months before his murder in 2013, Dr Dabholkar had started protests against social boycotts, in view of the rising number of atrocities on individuals by jaat panchayats. While 38 such cases were reported in the state in 2013-14, loopholes in the then existing laws were used by the accused to escape punishment.
The Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed in April 2016 and came into force from July 13, 2017. Punishment for an offence under this act includes a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh and imprisonment of up to seven years, or both.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines