Coming straight to the nub of the matter, let me begin at the very beginning by pointing out that in a very bold decision with far-reaching consequences, the Maharashtra state government has enacted a new law titled “The Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016. This new law explicitly prohibits the social boycott of individuals, families or any community by informal village councils which otherwise had become very common and pervasive. Social boycott of anyone under any circumstances can never be justified. This alone explains why even media and all leading newspapers have hailed this as a template for other States to follow!
1. What amounts to social boycott under the new law?
2. How does the Act seeks to prevent social boycott?
A Collector or District Magistrate, on receiving information of the likelihood of unlawful assembly for imposition of social boycott can, by order, prohibit the assembly. Conviction of the offence of social boycott will attract a prison term of up to three years or a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh or both. Abetment by an individual or group will invite the same punishment. The offence of social boycott is cognizable and bailable and will be tried by a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate First Class. To ensure speedy justice, trial would have to be completed within a period of six months from the date of filing the chargesheet.
3. Why it was felt imperative to have such a law in Maharashtra?
No prizes for guessing that the radical decision to enact such a strict law was primarily a reaction to unrelenting pressure mounted from growing incidents of atrocities on individuals by jati panchayats or gavkis wielding extra-judicial powers. The highest number of incidents were reported from the districts of Raigad, Ratnagiri and Nasik and the largest number of cases of social boycott were attributed to inter-caste marriages. In 2013-14, Raigad reported 38 such cases. It must be added here that prevailing laws are frequently challenged in the court, or loopholes are exploited by the accused to escape punishment. This new Act also facilitates the framing of charges under IPC Sections 34, 120-A, 120-B, 149, 153-A, 383 to 389 and 511 if there is concrete evidence to substantiate an accusation of social boycott.
4. What role did social organisations play in the passage of what is essentially a social reform legislation?
5. How many types of social boycotts have been provided under the Act?
6. Who all can be punished under the Act?
The Act makes it abundantly clear that who all can be punished under the Act: Those who directly practice social boycott, instigate others to do so, or participate in any meetings with the agenda of imposing a boycott.
7. When was the first FIR filed under the Act?
The first FIR was filed on under the Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prtevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, at Kondhwa Police Station, Pune, against those who ostracized Rudrap and others like him in the past, including the community-head.
8. When was the Bill passed and when it received the President’s assent?
9. Has such a law been made for the first time?
No. Earlier also Bombay had enacted a law against excommunication in 1949 which aimed to remove any legal disabilities that may be suffered by a person who had been excommunicated from their community, religious or otherwise. But it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1962 as being contrary to Article 26 of the Constitution after the Dawoodi Bohra community convincingly argued that it violated the community’s constitutional right to manage its own religious affairs.
10. In how much time should the trial be concluded under the Act?
11. Who would be viewed as a caste panchayat?
12. Can victim file complaint directly with Magistrate or with police only?
There is a provision for victims or any member of the victim’s family to file a complaint either with the police or directly to the Magistrate.
13. Does the Act provide any monitoring mechanism?
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.