Social boycott and the terror of Gavki panchayat in Raigad district

Amruta Shedge

We may believe that in the 21st century inequities like social boycott may be a thing of the past. But Raigad district in Maharashtra has again shown the harsh truth of our society. ‘Gavki Panchayat’, a system that acts like Khap or Jat panchayat, exists in the interior parts of Maharashtra. It has socially boycotted many families in different villages of Raigad.

Seventy-year-old Shivram Wanghule and his wife Subhadra Wanghule have been living in Raigad district’s Telang village for the past 25 years. Shivram was a textile mill worker in Mumbai. In 1990, when all the textile mills in Mumbai went on a strike and later shut down, Shivram left Mumbai and came back to his village. Shivram has no children. He gets Rs 600 as pension from the government. This is his only income. Now after spending half of his life in Telang village his own villagers have boycotted him over a pity issue. Shivram has one room in Mumbai and after leaving Mumbai he gave that room on rent to some of his villagers who were working in Mumbai. Later when Shivram needed money for his treatment he decided to sell that room and so asked the villagers to vacate the room, but they refused and asked him to pay 1 lakh rupees to the ‘Gavki ‘. When Shivram refused to pay the money, the entire village boycotted him.

“I have one room in Mumbai. As I don’t stay there I had given it to my fellow villagers who were working in Mumbai. One day, suddenly they came with a blank stamp paper and asked me to sign it. I asked them about it but they did not say anything.

“When I refused to sign it,  they asked me to pay 1 lakh rupees to the Gavki. How will I get such a huge amount of money? And so the Gavki boycotted us. Nobody can talk to us. Whoever talks Gavki punishes them with 1 lakh rupees. At this age we have no option but to live this way,” said Shivram.

Telang is a small village of around 30 households. With no electricity, no proper roads, Shivram has to walk to the other village to get essential items. Shivram is a diabetic patient. With wrinkled face and shaky hands he explains his hard life.

“I have diabetes. I cannot even walk empty stomach. Just few days before someone came to threaten me.  I often receive threats and once they said that they will beat me and break my limbs. What will  I do? I did not tell this to police. “

Surprisingly some politicians are supporting the Gavki panchayat. Bharat Gogawle, Shiv Sena MLA from Raigad, said, “What is wrong in that? If that person is not listening to the Gavki panchayat what is the other way left?”.  Shivram registered a complaint with police against 28 people from Gavki, but all were bailed out immediately.

Gavki is similar to Khap or Jat Panchayat. Though Gavki is not totally based on caste and religion, social boycott is the common link among them. In Gavki panchayat, a few elderly people who are politically and financially strong come together and make decisions. Whoever disagrees the Gavki, is boycotted. Social boycott is also used in matters related to land and money.

While covering different stories of social boycott, I have met 16-year-old Raj Talekar. Raj lives in Roha village of Raigad. Raj lost his father 2 years back.  But soon after his death, the entire village boycotted Raj’s mother Mohini (35) and her two sons. It all started during Holi festival when Mohini did not allow her children to participate in the function because of their exams. On this issue, Gavki panchayat boycotted Mohini and her children. Raj said that the Gavki members started to trouble them more. On one occasion, his mother was attacked by the members of Gavki. On November 28, Mohini committed suicide due to the repeated harassment.

“When mother did not allow us to go for Holi, boys from the village started abusing us. They did not allow us to talk to any villager. And no one from the village was allowed to talk to us. Once they came to my uncle’s place and attacked my mother. After that, she committed suicide and wrote in the suicide note that, she has no more patience to tackle the harassment by Gavki panchayat,” said Raj.

After Mohini’s death, the family registered a complaint with the police against the Gavki members. Many of them were absconding, but when Headlines Today broadcast this story, 30 people from Gavki panchayat wer e arrested, including 15 women. Maharashtra has witnessed several such cases of social boycott in the recent past. The cases of social boycott in Raigad have also drawn attention of the High Court. In last 10 months, 35 such cases were registered and only 18 cases are on police record. Now these cases are under the Home Ministry for further action. Remaining cases are pending with local civic bodies. Gavki Panchayat has no legal backing.

Coming down heavily on caste panchayats in Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court had asked the government to come out with “a strong legislation” to curb the social boycotts these bodies often impose on those who defy them. The court also asked the Home Department to forward a circular of September 30 to all the police stations, which says that social boycott by a caste panchayat should be treated as an offence under the Indian Penal Code. Here, every case has different angle. The reasons behind social boycott are also different. Gavki is an illegal system that runs parallel to the democratic system, but unfortunately there is no law to prevent such activities.

“Victims of social boycott must have the protection of law. Many people face injustice as there is no law to deal with such cases. It is dangerous in a democratic setup to run such parallel systems, which control society illegally.  There is no law to check such incidents and in many cases the ‘Excommunication Act’ -1962 is executed, but the shocking thing is, it has not been made into a law but remained a bill. The enforcement authorities failed to tackle such cases due to the absence of a particular law against social boycott and Gavki,” said Jayant Dhulap, senior journalist.

After a long independence struggle, the country has received equality and freedom. But even today, in states like Maharashtra, the evil tradition of social boycott still exists, and people are still struggling to get their basic rights.

 Courtesy: India today