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Social boycott will be a crime

The draft bill says whoever imposes or causes to impose any social boycott would, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment which may extend to seven years, or fine up to Rs 5 lakh, or both.

Vidhan-BhavanThe Maharashtra government has prepared a draft bill ‘Maharashtra Prohibition of Social Boycott Act, 2015 for ending the practice of social boycott. If the bill is passed successfully, Maharashtra will become the first state in the country to enact a law making social boycott a punishable offence. Despite modernisation social boycott is prevalent in various regions of the state. Caste panchayats have a vice-like grip on the customs and practices of their ilk and anyone found to deviate faces punishments like ostracism. As per the provisions of the draft bill, social boycott is prohibited and amounts to an offence. The state has urged the public to send suggestions on the provisions of the draft Bill in the next two weeks.

Any offence punishable under this Act would be cognizable and bailable and triable by a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of the First Class.  Whoever imposes or causes to impose any social boycott would, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment which may extend to seven years, or fine up to Rs 5 lakh, or both. Any person who abets the offence would be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or fine up to Rs 3 lakh, or both. The draft, nonetheless focuses only on intra-caste ostracism and does not increase its ambit to tackle inter-caste or inter-religious ostracism. It defines community as a group where members are connected through religion, caste and sub-caste.

The bill further prohibits assembling to impose social boycott. Such a gathering would be treated as unlawful assembly, and convening, organising or participating in such an assembly would be punishable with a fine which may extend to Rs 1.5 lakh.

The District Collector, the Social Boycott Prohibition Officer and the Police would be given the respective powers to act in accordance with the Act, the bill states. It further mandates the trial to be completed within a period of six months from the date of filing of the chargesheet so as to ensure speedy justice.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had announced his intent to ban the practice of social boycott during the discussion on the issue of growing incidence of the menace in the state, in the last Monsoon session of the Legislative Assembly. The government has now come up with the draft bill and sought citizens’ suggestions on the same.

An official in the Chief Minister’s Office said, “The right to live with dignity is a Fundamental Right enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution and also a basic human right inherent in human existence.” It has been observed that the practice of social boycott of a person or group of persons, and their family members, still continues in various parts of the state and the existing laws have not proved effective in addressing the issue.

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