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To go with story 'India-social-marriage-caste,FEATURE' by Abhaya Srivasta In this photograph taken on May 5, 2014 Inder Singh More, the head of the 42-village Khap panchayat or local village council, speaks during a meeting in Hissar district of the northern state of Haryana. For as long as anyone can remember, villagers north of India's capital have lived under two sets of laws -- those of the government and another imposed by unelected but powerful men. Now in a sign of major reform coming to a corner of the country steeped in tradition, Haryana state's largest council has allowed couples from neighbouring villages to marry, even if they belong to different castes. AFP PHOTO/ SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

By Aakash Jakhar

An age-old practice of village councils to obtrude “social boycott” that repudiate people for flouting tradition, has been quashed by the government of Maharashtra, making it the first state in the nation to put an end to this decades-old practice.

The oppressed and the untouchables and women often lug the burden of the consequent discernment, passed so as to penalize for the discerned violations like inter-caste marriages or dressing indecently.

Last month, the state has put sanctions against the practice of social boycotts. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis said, “The Act was required against the backdrop of atrocities inflicted on people in the name of tradition, caste and community”. He also added, “It is necessary to prohibit social boycotts as a matter of social reform in the interest of public welfare”.

Related article: Women barred from entering into Maharashtra Shani Temple

People along with their families have been exiled from their community as per the orders of the village council and no prior access to temples, occasions and markets. In some cases, women were even tagged as necromancers by the village council, and commanded mass killings or gang rapes as a punishment.

According to the new law passed in Maharashtra, social boycott is a crime under the court of law with a penance of seven year imprisonment or a penalty of 500,000($7,500), or both. Human Rights activists asked other states to follow Maharashtra’s act and look at it as an example.

Road leading to a village in Maharashtra. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

“The law will help check caste crimes to some extent. It empowers lower-caste people and it empowers Human rights organisations, as it gives us a tool with which to fight against village panchayats,” said Irfan Engineer, Director of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai. “We need a similar law in the rest of the country, particularly in states where (unelected) khap panchayats are strong,” he told Reuters.

Khap panchayats are non-elected village panchayats consisting of people from a specific caste or clan. Since 1992, their power has reduced, when the elected village panchayats were made obligatory. But, they still hold a strong and powerful position in the socially hidebound states including Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and parts of Uttar Pradesh.

In 2011, Supreme Court described these unelected Panchayats as “Kangaroo Courts” that are completely illegitimate.

The state of Maharashtra has been a home to some of the eminent social reformers like BR Ambedkar who opposed and fought against caste discrimination and enacted laws declaring the practices of human sacrifices and other superstitious beliefs as a criminal offence under the court of law.

“The social boycott act is another step towards ending outdated customs,” said Avinash Patil, Executive President of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, who had campaigned for the bill, as well as the 2013 law. He said, “We are demanding that the central government enact similar laws in all states, so we can end this brutal practice”.

Aakash is an engineering graduate from Sat Kabir Institute of Technology and Management, Haryana. Twitter @DabanggDragon


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