Forcing a member of your community to wear a particular type of clothes or restraining your children from interacting with certain members of your community may land you in jail for seven years.
The Maharashtra government released a draft bill for “The Maharashtra Prohibition of Social Boycott Act, 2015” Thursday with an objective to prevent social boycotts in the state. The draft law stipulates a punishment of up to seven years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.
The state has urged the public to send suggestions on the provisions of the draft Bill in the next two weeks.
Social ostracism has been prevalent in the hinterland. Caste panchayats have a strong hold on sub-castes that have sprung up from guilds. These bodies have a vice-like grip on the customs and practices of their ilk and anyone found to deviate faces punishments like ostracism.
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The draft, however, focuses only on intra-caste ostracism and does not increase its ambit to tackle inter-caste or inter-religious ostracism.
The draft suggests that the “dehumanizing practice of social boycott” persists in various parts of the state and the existing laws are not effective in the elimination of social boycott in communities. It defines community as a group where members are connected through religion, caste and sub-caste.
The Bill lists offences that will be deemed as social boycott, which it defines as “gesture or an act, whether oral or written, of any social discrimination”.
The offences include preventing a member of the community from observing or taking part in a social, religious or community function, and denying people to perform wedding, funeral or religious ceremonies and rites that members of the same community usually and ordinarily perform.
Disallowing a member of the community to engage with society and cutting off all social or commercial ties have also been deemed as an offence, and so has been denying access to facilities of any temple, school, educational institution, medical institution, community hall, club hall, cemetery, burial ground or any other place used by the community.
Obstructing children of one’s own community from playing together with the children of a specific family or families in the community will also be seen as an offence, along with compelling any member of the community to wear any particular type of clothes.
The draft also makes illegal congregation of caste panchayats who deliberate on imposing social boycott. These gatherings will be deemed as unlawful assemblies.
The draft says anyone found to have imposed a social boycott can be imprisoned for a period of seven years and will have to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh. If the social boycott has been imposed by a caste panchayat, the quantum of punishment will be three years and a fine of Rs 3 lakh.
Victims can file a complaint with either the police or a magistrate. The draft states that cases under this Act should be closed within six months.
The draft also speaks of creation of a post of social boycott prohibition officer who will be tasked with finding cases of social boycott under his/her jurisdiction and report such cases to the authorities concerned.
The state has decided to put up the draft in public domain and the public will have, starting Thursday, two weeks to send suggestions and objections.
The Maharashtra government had been contemplating bringing in such a law in view of rising incidents of social boycott in the hinterland.
In the 1950s, there was a Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act, 1949. The law was, however, deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1962. The new legislation was drafted after the Bombay High Court ordered the state in 2013 to check social boycott imposed by caste panchayats.