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A Critical Review

Maharashtra’s Law on Social Boycott

The social boycott act passed by the Government of Maharashtra is an important step in arresting the abuse of power by in-group elites. However, the possibility of legal challenge; absence of victim and witness protection, compensation and rehabilitation; and lack of a mechanism to deal with inter-caste and outlier community cases may limit the realisation of the desired goals. Further, by pegging the role of caste panchayats only to social boycott it conveniently excludes the “evolved” upper caste panchayats.

On 3 July 2017, the Government of Maharashtra published and brought into force the Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016. The act lists down and makes punishable by law, various forms of social boycott which are used by a group within a community to exercise compliance to, and continuation of, their power within their own caste or religious denomination. The passing of the act has been widely applauded and the chief minister himself termed it as historic.

It is, indeed, historic that the movement started only five years ago by the Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANIS) and supported by other actors, has borne fruit in the form of this law. There is no denying the fact that the act strips off a range of powers exercised by caste panchayats. However, the act’s sole focus on the phenomenon of social boycott, which though important, is limiting as it is not the only lever on which the power of caste panchayats is hinged. The nature of the functioning of khap panchayats in Haryana is a testimony to this.

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