The police have arrested six persons in connection with an incident in which members of a Jaat Panchayat (Caste Panchayat) of Gopal community, a nomadic tribe, accused a man of raping his minor daughter, tied both him and his daughter with a rope and publicly thrashed them with a stick in Pachwad village of Wai taluka in Satara district on Thursday.
The Panchayat also decided to boycott them and imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on the man and Rs 3,000 on the daughter.
A case was registered at the Bhuinj police station after a local RTI activist Sachin Bhise made a video of the incident and approached the Satara police.
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On Friday, the police arrested five five persons, besides the victim’s father for allegedly harassing her sexually.
Bhise, who is a farmer from Pachvad village, told The Indian Express, “I had gone to Gopal Wasti around 11 am on Thursday for hiring some labourers for work in my farm. But they told me nobody would come as the Jaat Panchayat had called a meeting. I was told a man has been accused of raping his minor daughter and the Jaat Panchayat meeting has been called on this issue. I observed the meeting with my friends. The Jaat Panchayat announced punishment for the man and also his daughter. They tied them with rope and beat them with stick. It was strange as the Panchayat members not only beat the man who has been accused of rape, but also the girl who they claimed was sexually harassed by his father. We got upset with all the situation. The crowd around the spot remained silent. We made a video of the entire incident and approached the police.”
“Acting promptly, police teams raided Gopal Wasti and detained a few persons. But nobody came forward for filing a complaint. So I filed the FIR in this case. The police then arrested five Panchayat leaders today,” said Bhise.
According to Bhise, around 700 members of the Gopal community have been living in Pachvad area for about 15 years. “Most of them earn their living by working in farms, dancing and performing in marriages and similar activities,” he said.
District superintendent of police Abhinav Deshmukh said the father of the minor girl was also arrested on charges of sexual harassment.
Hamid Dabholkar of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), who also visited the spot, said, “The incident took place just near Pune-Satara national highway in public. This shows how strong the Jaat Panchayats are active. They have their own laws and gruesome punishments. It is like challenging the law of the land and Constitution. The Panchayat heads from different areas came to Pachvad village for the meeting and then tortured not only the man, but also the daughter who was allegedly raped. The minor girl faced double harassment, first at home and then by Jaat Panchayat.”
Incidentally, the incident comes at a time when the state cabinet has decided to table the “Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill” in the Budget Session of the State Legislature starting March 9.
Dabholkar said the Bill focused on social boycott. “We have demanded that the Bill also ban Jaat Panchayats and any kind of harassment by them be made an unbailable offence,” he said.