In January 1990, Umesh Chandrakant Rudrap of the Telgu Madelwar Parit Community, who lived in Pune Camp area , got married to Manju after a period of courtship. Manju lived in the same neighbourhood and was a Buddhist. The caste panchayat of the Telgu Madelwar Parit Community refused to accept the inter-caste marriage, and decided to boycott the couple. In the years following the boycott, Rudrap and Manju struggled to be accepted by the community, but their efforts were in vain. Today, after 27 long years, Rudrap said members of the caste panchayat have been sending messages to him through “middlemen”, indicating that they were willing to lift the social boycott.
The “change” in the caste panchayat’s stance came only after Rudrap filed a complaint against 17 members of the caste panchayat last month, at the Kondhwa police station, under the newly-enacted Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. His was the first case in the state registered under the Act, which was passed by the Maharashtra state legislature in April 2016, and which came into force on July 13, 2017. The punishment for an offence under the Act includes a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh and imprisonment of up to seven years, or both. Rudrap, who lives with his wife and two children at Shivneri Nagar in Kondhwa now, says that because of the social boycott, he was not allowed to attend weddings, funerals and even religious functions organised by community members.
“Whenever I attended a marriage or a funeral of a member of our community, the caste panchayat members raised objections to my presence. Thrice, I was treated in an insulting manner during marriage ceremonies because of the social boycott. It hurt me badly,” said Rudrap, who works as a driver. Recalling how she was never invited for any functions meant for woman members of the community, like the traditional Haldi Kumkum, Manju started sobbing. “When I attended some of the programmes, I was ignored and snubbed,” she said.
Rudrap said while his parents were not socially boycotted and were invited for community functions, they were always warned that their son and daughter-in-law would not be allowed to attend such events.
“Inter-caste marriage is not wrong. We are respected in our friends’ circle and the neighbourhood. But the treatment… the disrespect in our own community, for doing nothing wrong, disturbs us always as we see our children facing the same problems,” said Rudrap.
“Every year, children who do well in studies are felicitated by the community. My son is pursuing a post-graduate degree in commerce and my daughter has completed her Standard XII. They were never felicitated despite scoring well. My children never complained, but they do feel bad about the abuses we kept facing… we want our children to receive the respect that we lost due to the social boycott. So, for the sake of my children, in 2009 and even later, I wrote to the caste panchayat members, apologising and requesting them to lift the social boycott… but I always got a negative response,” said Rudrap. It was then that Rudrap — with the assistance of activists of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), founded by late rationalist Narendra Dabholkar — and in the presence of a dozen more socially boycotted families from his community, filed a police complaint.
The Kondhwa police then registered an FIR and arrested the 17 caste panchayat members mentioned in the complaint. All of them were later released on bail. “After the FIR was registered, no caste panchayat member called me directly. But they have sent messages through middlemen, like the elders of our community, telling me that I should take the case back and then they will lift the social boycott against us…There are attempts to pressurise me. But now I cannot go back as the case is in court. There are at least 40 more couples in my community who have been socially boycotted due to inter-caste marriages… I hope all of them get justice and the caste panchayats put an end to their wrong practices,” said Rudrap.
When contacted, Sunil Kodgir, vice president of the caste panchayat and one of the accused, refused to comment, saying the matter was sub-judice. Members of the from Telgu Madelwar Parit Community are originally from Andhra Pradesh; they later settled in Pune. Rudrap said his grandfather migrated to Pune many years ago and since then, his family has been living in the city.