Maharashtra has become the first state in the country to ban village councils from imposing “social boycotts” that ostracise individuals or families for defying tradition.
Women and dalits often bear the brunt of such judgments, passed as punishment for perceived misdeeds such as marrying between castes or dressing ‘immodestly’.
The western Indian state last month passed the law against a decades-old practice of village panchayats, or councils, ordering social boycotts.
“The Act was required against the backdrop of atrocities inflicted on people in the name of tradition, caste and community, It is necessary to prohibit social boycotts as a matter of social reform in the interest of public welfare.” Devendra Fadnavis, Maharashtra Chief Minister
Under village council orders, individuals and families have been banished from the community and denied access to temples, wells, markets and celebrations.
In some cases, panchayats have even branded women as witches, and ordered gang rapes or killings as punishment.
Maharashtra’s new law declares social boycotts a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison, a fine of Rs 500,000, or both.
Human rights campaigners called for other Indian states to follow Maharashtra’s example.
Khap panchayats are unelected village councils comprising men of a particular clan or caste. While their power has diminished since 1992, when elected village councils were made mandatory, they remain powerful in socially conservative states including Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and parts of Uttar Pradesh.
India’s top court in 2011 described khap panchayats as “kangaroo courts” that are entirely illegal.
Maharashtra, home to several social reformers including BR Ambedkar, passed legislation criminalising practices related to black magic, human sacrifices, and other superstitious beliefs in 2013.
The social boycott act is another step toward ending outdated customs, said Avinash Patil, executive president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, which had campaigned for this bill as well as for the 2013 law.
Source: The Quint