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Social boycott to be abolished in Maharashtra

Mumbai: Maharashtra would soon be India’s first state to come up with a law condemning the act of social boycott by caste panchayats on families or individuals.

Any action pertaining to social boycott has been ruled as a crime according to the draft of the act –‘Maharashtra Prohibition of Social Boycott Act, 2015’, which was published on the state government website on Wednesday.

The heinous practices of the caste panchayats had been protested against by rationalist Narendra Dabholkar before he was murdered in Pune. Several activists and academics have also raised their voices for a law against the practice going on for years.

Maharashtra, in recent times saw an increased number of social boycott incidents and violence pushed by the caste panchayats when their rules weren’t followed.

This is not Maharashtra’s first time in enacting such laws as it was also the first state in the country to pass the anti-superstition law.

The accused, according to the act, would complete trial within six months of the charge sheet being filed. If proven guilty, the accused will face seven years of jail time or Rs 5 lakh fine, or both.

The new act defines ‘Caste Panchayat’ as a registered or unregistered body formed by a group of any community, which functions inside that community to control different practices carried out there. It controls personal and societal behaviours of the community members and works out disputes collectively and ‘resolves’ them by issuing oral or written dictums

Either a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of the First Class, whichever the case needed, would have the authority to deem the offence under this act as bailable or triable.

Provision has also been made for the appointment of a Social Boycott Prohibition Officer who would detect crimes in violation of this act. The officer would also provide support to the police officers and the magistrate in their duties.

“It is a positive step from the government and we will be sending our suggestions to the draft. One of the major suggestions would be to make these crimes non-bailable. Hopefully we will succeed in it,” prominent anti-caste panchayat activist in Maharashtra, Krushna Chandgude, told The Hindu.

Advocate Asim Sarode also commended this move by the government, saying that it would encourage more activists to work in this field. Sarode had submitted his own draft to formulate an act.

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