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Maharashtra's New Social Boycott Law
Jul 24, 2017

[GS Paper II: Mechanisms, Laws, Institutions and Bodies constituted for the Protection and Betterment of Vulnerable Sections]

On July 13, the Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, received Presidential assent. This new law disallows social boycott in the name of caste, community, religion, rituals or customs. 

Key Provisions of the Act 

  • It empowers a Collector or District Magistrate to prohibit any public assembly called for imposition of social boycott. 
  • It imposes a prison term of up to three years or a fine up to Rs 1 lakh, or both for the offence. Abetment by an individual or group also invites the same punishment. 
  • To ensure speedy justice, the act provides a period of six months (from the date of filing the chargesheet) for completion of trial by the Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate First Class.
  • The new Act facilitates the framing of charges under Indian Penal Code Sections 34, 120-A, 120-B, 149, 153-A, 383 to 389, and 511 if there is concrete evidence to substantiate an accusation of social boycott.
Note: Judicial Magistrates of First Class are at the second lowest level of the Criminal Court structure in India. According to the Section 11 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, a Court of Judicial Magistrate of First Class may be established by the State Government in consultation with the High Court of the respective state at such places in the district and in any number by a notification.

Social Boycott 

  • It is a weapon used in rural and some urban communities to reinforce social hierarchies and power structures. In India, it is commonly deployed against the deprived sections of society including women and lower castes. 
  • The law states that if any individual or group tries to prevent or obstruct another member or group from observing any social or religions custom or usage or ceremony, or from taking part in a social, religious or community function, assembly, congregation, meeting or procession, it will amount to social boycott. 
  • Denial of the right to practise a profession of choice, challenging freedom of individuals in the name of jati panchayats, religion, customs also amounts to social boycott as per the law. 
  • Discrimination on the basis of morality, political inclination or sexuality also qualifies as social boycott. 

What the Court says?

  • The Bombay High Court in its 1953 judgement held that the rights of community to manage religious affairs under Article 26 of the constitution cannot interfere with legal rights and privileges enjoyed under the law. 
  • The HC judgement linked it with untouchability abolished under Article 17.

Need for the law 

  • Social boycott deprives an individual of dignity having social as well as economic impact.
  • Rising incidents of atrocities on individuals by jati panchayats or gavkis wielding extra-judicial powers. 
  • Loopholes in the prevailing laws that are frequently challenged in the court and are used to escape punishment.
Note: ‘Gavkis’ are the traditional caste panchayats consisting of upper caste people in villages. They exist in the interiors of Maharashtra and function alongside the Gram Panchayat. 

Way Forward

  • This is the first serious attempt by a state to reign in these groups, which go by different names such as "Caste Panchayat" in Maharashtra and "Khap Panchayat" in Haryana. These groups wield immense power in communities which are governed by social codes rather than the law of the land. 
  • The act is an acknowledgement of a basic principle of citizenship and justice. The social contract in a modern democracy is between the state and the citizen, and crime and punishment must be defined between these two parties.
  • In essence, the law asserts the freedom of the individual over the social group they belong to.

PT Facts 

  • Article 17 of the constitution abolishes the practice of untouchability. 
  • Article 26 provides the freedom to manage religious affairs subject to public order, morality and health.


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