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Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Photo: Hindustan Times
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Photo: Hindustan Times

Social boycott to be a crime in Maharashtra

Maharashtra passes bill that aims to crack down on extra-judicial bodies that promote social discrimination

New Delhi: Maharashtra is set to become the first state in India to criminalize social boycott as the state assembly on Wednesday passed the Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill.

The passage of the bill comes on the eve of the 125th birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar and aims to crack down on extra-judicial bodies like caste and community panchayats that promote social discrimination.

Senior leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the state government’s move is a tribute to Ambedkar and is meant to send out a message that democracy is not about majoritarianism.

“There was a demand that existing laws were inadequate to deal with social boycott cases and a new legislation was needed. In this bill, we have treated indulging in social boycott as a crime. I am happy that the House is approving this progressive law unanimously," chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said, replying to a debate on the bill.

The bill provides for prohibition of social boycott of a person or group of persons, including their family members, by an individual or a group like caste panchayat. It states that social boycott is prohibited and its commission shall be an offence, the maximum punishment for which will be seven years in prison or fine up to 5 lakh or both. It also states that maximum punishment for extending aid in relation to the commission of offence will be three years or 3 lakh or both.

“This is the way Maharashtra has paid tribute to B.R. Ambedkar. BJP appreciates that democracy is not about majoritarianism. Human rights cannot be allowed to be violated on the basis of head count. Social assimilation will get more impetus through this bill," said Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, national vice-president of BJP and a senior leader from Maharashtra.

According to the bill, the victim or any member of the victim’s family can file a complaint either through the police or directly to the magistrate. To ensure speedy justice, the trial shall be completed within a period of six months from the date of filing of the chargesheet.

Social Boycott Prohibition Officers will be appointed to detect the commission of offences, to assist the magistrate and police officers in discharge of their duties under the Act. The burden of proving that no offence under this Act have been committed, shall lie on the accused.

Political analysts say that this is part of BJP’s plan to win over dalits and expand its voter base. “After the Bihar elections, BJP has started a campaign to try an get voters of scheduled caste (SC) on its side. This is a strategy to enhance BJP’s voter base. BJP is making the same mistake which the Congress had made, it is not the doles which gets votes for a political party but a credible leader from within the community can get votes. BJP thinks that it can get support of voters through doles," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

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