The social boycott is the act of persistently avoiding a person by other members of the society.
It is society’s collective refusal to engage a person in the normal social and commercial relations. Its goal is to make that individual so uncomfortable that he decides to voluntarily leave the society.
Ostracism is a related practice – much eviler. Ostracism is the forcible expulsion of an individual from society for any reason, often accompanied by the confiscation of his property.
Maharashtra, recently became the first state in India to enact a Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016 after it received the Presidential Assent on 13th July 2017. (Reference: TOI) In this article, we discuss in detail the provisions of the act, the reasons for the enactment of such an act, its possible impacts and challenges.
- According to the act, if any individual or group tries to prevent or obstruct another members or group from observing any social or religious custom or usage or ceremony, or from taking part in a social, religious or community function, assembly, congregation, meeting or procession, the act amounts to social boycott.
- The challenging of freedom of individuals in the name of jati panchayats, religion, customs or denying them the right to practice a profession of their choice amounts to social boycott as well.
- Freedom in the above context includes the freedom to marry outside one’s caste, visit places of worship, wear clothes of one’s choice and use of any specific language. Discrimination on the basis of morality, political inclination or sexuality also qualifies as an act of social boycott. As does stopping children from playing in a particular space, or disallowing access to burial grounds, community halls or educational institutions with mala fide intentions.
- A Collector or District Magistrate/Deputy Commissioner, on receiving information of the likelihood of unlawful assembly for the imposition of social boycott can, by order, prohibit the assembly.
- Conviction of the offence of social boycott will attract a prison term of up to three years and/or a fine up to rupees 1 lakh. Abetment by an individual or group will invite the same punishment as well.
- It is a cognizable offence and bailable and will be tried by a Judicial Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of the First Class. To ensure speedy justice under the Act, the trial would have to be completed within a period of six months from the date of filing the charge sheet.
- In India, since historical times, a legacy of caste system has been established which is carried forward to this date. Its manifestation can be seen this day itself.
- The carrying out of jati panchayats of gavkis in Maharashtra and the infamous khap panchayats of Haryana are examples of the rigid implementation of the caste system.
- These groups, after assembling, deliver extra judicial judgments, which are inhuman in nature but also go against the dignity of the individual and are at times, cruel and harsh.
- For example, the naked parading of women in the entire village after applying black paint on their face, ostracizing particular individuals because they carried out acts which were against the so called established rules of the assemblies, whipping and lashing of individuals and in some cases, marrying of the rape victim to the perpetrator etc.
- These extra judicial pronouncements are carried out to this date in rural areas of those places where caste system and caste hierarchy is very strongly observed.
Impact of the Act
- With the active involvement of the government and the bringing in of such an act against the evil of social boycott, it would be possible for the community individuals to exercise their Constitutional Rights more freely and with legal backing now. For example, people can now marry outside their caste, accessibility of public places and wells and temples cannot be denied.
- In fact, the government has gone a step further by mentioning sexual orientation as one’s personal choice and boycott on those lines will also attract penal provisions under the aforementioned act.
- Despite a legal backing, there are fears of increased backlash amongst various communities residing in the nation.
- For example, Orthodox elderly people of the villages who rigidly observe the caste system and its established customs might resist the empowerment of the so called lower castes of the villages and this might lead to a rise of the spate of honour killings. Also, this can lead to increased social unrest amongst the rural areas
- National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data made available in 2014 says that there has been a sharp increase of up to 20% in the number of crimes committed against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the previous three years.
- The rising awareness of their (SCs and STs) rights and the legal means that are available to get their rights enforced and prepare to make use of government mechanisms to protect their interests is one major reason for the rising crimes which is a logical corollary of the first point.
- The Chief Minister of Maharashtra had mentioned while introducing the act that a state like Maharashtra, which has had such a rich legacy of social reformers who have contributed to the social development of the nation can’t carry on with such regressive activities.
- Mahatma Jyotirao Phule who had founded the Satyashodhak Samajh along with his wife Savitribai Phule. He had also started the first girls’ school in India in 1848.
- Savitribai Phule had founded a shelter home, which attended to rape victims.
- BR Ambedkar, also called the Father of the Indian Constitution, was a pioneer of social reforms and waging a war against the caste system was also from Maharashtra.
- Pandita Ramabai, who founded The Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission in Maharashtra, which runs to this date.
- Mahadev Govind Ranade, also known as Justice Ranade, who founded the Social Conference Movement and was a pioneer in social reforms was also from Maharashtr
- Anna Hazare, the leader of India Against Corruption Movement.
- Narendra Dabholkar, the founder of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti was the work force behind putting pressure on the government to implement the Social Boycott Act.
The government of Maharashtra has taken a step in the right direction. With legal backing for the prevention of social boycott activities, there will be a rise in individuals who can now exercise their rights in a much better manner and will also have an opportunity to lead their life better. Also, with these rights already being mentioned in the Constitution, it will lead to better usage of Fundamental Rights by various individuals. The Act is a good example of empowerment of the people. Implementation, however, remains the key in this Act like every Indian Act.
Article by: Aadarsh Clerk