Small World

Social Boycott Deserves No Tolerance

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Maharashtra considers a law against ostracism ordered by self-appointed guardians of tradition
In May 2012 Rahul Yelange won acclaim after touching Mount Everest as a part of Pune’s first civilian expedition to the world’s highest peak. The next year, residents of Bhogaon Budruk, the village in Raigad district where he lived, ostracised him and his advocate wife Purnima. The charge against them was that they were ‘too modern’ because Purnima wore jeans and didn’t sport a mangalsutra or a bindi. The couple were not allowed to fill water from the common well and no invitations came for functions held at the local temple. A family in another village in Maharashtra was boycotted because women of the household wore ‘gowns’.

Such incidents, where caste panchayats or gavkis boycott families without even giving them a hearing, are going up in Maharashtra, especially in Raigad district, where over a dozen such cases have been reported since January.

The Maharashtra government is now planning to punish those behind such boycotts, with a maximum of seven years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5 lakh to be imposed on the instigators. For abettors, it could be three years in jail. However, with the consent of the victim and permission of the court, the convict may be handed out punitive community service: cleaning roads and toilets, donating blood and so on.

The Maharashtra Prohibition of Social Boycott Act, 2015, has been put up online for comments. The Bill will be tabled in the winter session of the state legislature in December. Officials say this is the first time a state government is outlawing social boycotts. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is said to be monitoring its progress himself, and support for it cuts across party lines. “Social boycotts are happening for everything. It needs to be curbed. Otherwise it will be a backward journey for a progressive state like Maharashtra,” says Dr Neelam Gorhe, MLC and deputy leader of the Shiv Sena.