Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2016

What is the issue?

The Maharashtra State legislature has unanimously passed the prohibition of social boycott bill (Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2016.)

 

What does the act say?

  • It disallows social boycott of any individual or groups by caste panchayats or groups of individuals
  • It has made boycott a criminal offence, bailable offence which can attract imprisonment up to 7 years and a fine of Rs 5 Lakh or both
  • The victim or any member of the victim’s family can file a complaint either to police or directly to the magistrate.
  • To ensure time-bound results, it indicated speedy trial within six months of filing charge sheet
  • To ensure monitoring, social boycott prohibition officers will be recruited to detect offences and assist the magistrate and police officers in tackling cases.

 

Objective of the Act:

  • It intends to take legal measures to root out oppression in the name of traditions, caste and religion.
  • To stop the extra-judicial institutions like caste panchayats and community panchayats to rule the personal and social sphere of the people.

 

History of struggle against social boycott in India

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scheduled tribes 2014

  • Intra-community battles over access to public goods under the British rule had begun way back in mid-19th century
  • After relentless struggle by the Dalit students, towards the end of the 19th century, Dalit students were allowed to attend public schools, but with the condition that they agree to sit separately in a verandah outside the classroom.
  • They were also barred from accessing the common water supply.
  • In the late 1920s, with B.R. Ambedkar’s famous Mahad satyagraha , the struggle reached its climax.
  • It was directed towards opening up access to community water tanks that had been barred to Dalits. Simultaneously, he also launched a movement for entry into public temples, basing his claims on the right to an equal standing within the community. As he famously argued, “the issue is not entry, but equality.”
  • It was at the same time that Ambedkar began to think of legal solutions to the problem of community oppression.
  • In his submissions to the Minorities Committee of the Round Table Conference, he identified social boycott as “the most formidable weapon in the hands of the orthodox classes with which they beat down any attempt on the part of the Depressed Classes to undertake any activity if it happens to be unpalatable to them”.
  • Accordingly, Ambedkar proposed an anti-boycott law which would specifically prohibit the practice of social boycotts.
  • A few of these proposals found their way into the post-Independence Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955.

 

History of Legal mechanism against social boycott

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  • Soon after Independence, in 1949, the State of Bombay passed a law called the Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act, which outlawed the practice of excommunication within religious communities.
  • Under the law, no community could deprive a person of their right to property, to worship in religious places, to perform funeral rites or other rituals.
  • The constitutionality of this Act was challenged by the “Dai”, or head, of the Dawoodi Bohra community, who argued that by curtailing his powers of excommunication, the law interfered with his religious freedom.
  • When the High Court upheld the act, it was appealed in the Supreme Court and in 1962, a five-judge bench finally gave a divided verdict.
  • A minority among the judges wanted the Act to be upheld, but the majority judgement regarded excommunication as a legitimate practice of a community that had to be protected under Article 26(b) of the Constitution, which grants individuals the freedom to manage religious affairs.
  • The apex court concluded that the Prevention of Excommunication Act was unconstitutional.
  • Therefore, the debate between, Article 15, Article 17 and Article 26(b) continued to be open to interpretation

 

So what is historic or new about this Social Boycott Act passed by Maharashtra State Legislature?

 

  • Maharashtra’s social boycott law marks the beginning to effectuate the Constitution’s guarantee against social exclusion, as expressed in Articles 15(2) and 17.
  • Some experts feel that it is a renaissance and a recognition of individualism.
  • Experts are of the opinion that if there is a law, people would fear the repercussions of ostracising others as it acts as a deterrence mechanism.
  • Experts also feel that this is a sign of maturing political culture of our country.
  • It also signifies that at least a section of the society is rationalising itself changing with the social realities of its times.
  • It is a comprehensive legislation covering stringent punishment including imprisonment and penalty against those indulging in social boycott
  • It includes social boycott for reasons like Inter-caste marriage, rituals of worship, any connection to lifestyle, dress, vocation etc
  • The act defines “Caste Panchayat” as a Committee or a body formed by a group of persons belonging to any community, whether registered or not, which functions within the community to regulate various practices in the same community, controls personal and social behaviour of any member and collectively resolves or decides any disputes amongst their members including their families, by issuing oral or written dictums.

 

What are the possible challenges in ensuring considerable success of this act?

  • Activists say that the Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, is quite comprehensive but the real test will be its implementation.
  • The Act requires the appointment of special officers who will detect social boycott, and help the police bring the culprits to justice. Sceptics, however, are worried that the locally dominant interests may overwhelm the state officials.
  • social boycott is a bailable offence under the Act. Therefore, the possibility of the perpetrator going scot free looms large.
  • For any chance of effective enforcement, experts say that human rights activists will have to work closely with state officials to educate the people about the law.
  • They will have to take the lead in convincing victims and survivors of a boycott to speak out.
  • This can be a dangerous proposition which requires activists to build trust before someone agrees to open up.
  • Another big challenge will be proving social boycott in a court of law because many of these situations involve oral directions — nothing is written down or recorded.
  • The police could find it incredibly hard to find evidence of premeditated boycott unless a member from inside the community speak out.
  • It is rare for people to speak out against their own communities, as the social pressure is immense.
  • As Ambedkar recognised, exclusion occurs along multiple axes: through boycott, through stigmatisation, and through segregation (the case of the school verandah).
  • With its focus on caste-panchayat driven community boycotts, the Maharashtra law leaves a significant area of discrimination untouched.

 

How to overcome these challenges?

  • A social movement to spread awareness needs to be taken up
  • The attitude and psyche of the people need to be addressed for this act to be successful. This can be done through regular awareness weeks in schools, colleges, specialised training workshops and so on
  • The administration should make a concerted effort to popularise the achievements of people who broke this barrier and were successful in their lives.
  • Experts opine legal mechanisms are only a part of the solution. The masses need to be educated through workshops, celebrating Anti-boycott weeks etc
  • The sensitivity training needs to be imparted to the administration at all levels
  • The registration of cases needs to be tracked using technology like CCTNS projects so that Police do not use their discretion to avoid registering cases.
  • Various stakeholders like NGO’s Media groups, public policy advocacy groups need to be engaged meaningfully to ensure effective implementation of the act
  • To address the various layers of exclusion as mentioned above, a comprehensive anti-discrimination law is required, on the lines of the Civil Rights enactments in the United States and the United Kingdom

 

Way Forward:

  • The Bill is a very progressive step and signals a maturing society
  • For now, however, the Maharashtra law is an important first step, that carries forward the judicially-aborted goals of the 1949 Excommunication Act, and the rarely-used Protection of Civil Rights Act.
  • Time is the best judge to comment on its effectiveness.
  • In the meantime, the State administration should take proactive steps to ensure meaningful and effective implementation of the act

Approach to Civil Services Exam:

GS 1 :

  • 125th anniversary of Dr. B.R Ambedkar- so its important to go through his contribution in history part of paper 1
  • In Society, the social stigmatisation and the Dalit movements become important
  • The various aspects like dominant caste, class, Sanskritisation are important
  • Why certain communities are dominantly involved in manual scavenging?-social aspects

GS2:

  • Policies and interventions for the vulnerable and excluded
  • Constitutional articles and fundamental rights- Article 15,17,26,21 and also Directive principles of State Policy
  • Particular communities are dominantly involved in practices like manual scavenging.Therefore even Manual scavenging act becomes important.

GS3:

  • Analysis of Zamindari abolition act and land reforms and did it really help the socially excluded?

GS4:

  • Attitudinal factors related to social exclusion and its ethical dimensions
  • Case study

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