Narendra Dabholkar, the founder of the ANS had started a campaign against the caste panchayats and had organised a series of meetings across the state under the program named ‘Jaat panchayat muthmati abhiyan’ (Caste Pancahayat Eradication Mission) . Dabholkar, held a series of meetings as part of this campaign at various places. Meetings were held in Nashik and Pune and plans were made to take the campaign to other parts of the state.
Some instances of Jat Panchayat atrocities:
1) At the Pune meeting, the audience heard an 80-year-old man describing how his family was ostracised by members of his ‘upper’ caste community after his son, who works in the armed forces, traveled out of the country. The octogenarian’s family was accused of violating the caste’s ‘Samudra Bandi’ or restrictions on crossing the seas.
2) In Nashik, delegates were told that a father killed his nine-month pregnant daughter for daring to choose a man from outside their tribe as her life partner. In this case, the caste panchayat in a tribal village in the district instigated the man to kill the daughter for defiling their community’s ‘purity’.
3) Former corporator, Kaka Dharmavat, Jitendra Sharma and Jagdish Unecha, all residents of Pune, belonging to the Shri Gaur Brahmin community, face excommunication after a member from each of their families is married into a different caste. None of them is allowed to attend any community program or gathering by the community leaders in the city. Dharmavat’s niece has married a Maharashtrian Brahmin while Sharma’s handicapped brother, after a number of rejections, married a girl from another caste.
4) Haresh Pardhi and Sahadeo Padwal, residents of Dhamandevi village in Chiplun taluka, belong to the Bhoi community. Both men married outside their caste 18 years ago. They have been considered outcasts since then, even by their families. No one from their community in the village speaks with their children.
5) A mountaineer from a Raigad village, who had climbed the Everest in 2012, was boycotted by villagers because his wife, an advocate, wore jeans and did not sport a mangalsutra or bindi. The couple were isolated, excluded from temple functions and not even allowed to use water from the village tap.
6) A Dalit families from Osmanabad district were boycotted by upper caste villagers after a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar was desecrated and the Dalits filed a police complaint. The Dalits have been denied public water, access to grazing fields for cattle and even groceries in shops. Even though the boycott has been called off, the 13 families contineu to live in fear.
The ANS have succeeded in bringing many cases to the public notice where the panchayat was acting as judiciary. ANS is working with the leaders of many castes where this practice is prevalent and trying to convince them how bad is this system and how it obstructs their development. ANS has succeeded in convincing some communities to stop this practice, which include Bhatake Joshi in Nashik, Vaidu community from Mumbai, Padmashali from Ahmadnagar, Aadivasi Gond from Chandrapur and Dombari and Kolhati from Sangli.
Krishna Chandugade, is the co-ordinator of the ‘Jaat panchayat muthmati abhiyan’. At present, the police are authorised to register complaints against the caste panchayats but only after getting permission from the home ministry which is time-consuming. Our demand is that the state government should make a law which will declare the activities of caste panchayats illegal.
Avinash Patil, state president of the samiti says, “Hundreds of incidents have been reported at various parts of the state where people have suffered due to the wrath of caste panchayats. Many castes in the state follow the tradition of forming panchayat of senior members of the caste which dictates the rules for the society. If anyone is found violating the rules he will be cast out or slapped a fine. The panchayats run a parallel judiciary where the grievances of the members of the caste are heard and judgments passed. In Raigad district alone, more than 45 cases have been reported in the last one year. The practice continues despite it is unconstitutional.
Dr Hamid Dabholkar active member of ANS and son of slain Dr Narendra Dabholkar says “There are at least three different kinds of boycotts One kind is when a self-appointed panchayat of one’s own caste group calls for a boycott of an individual or family; another is when a village, across caste lines, chooses to shun someone living among them; a third kind is when one caste group targets another, as in the case of the Dalit families in Osmanabad.”
A division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and S B Shukre took a serious note of the issue while hearing a petition filed by four members of the ‘Kunabi’ community from Harihareshwar, Raigad district. They are facing social boycott for contesting the local body elections without the consent of their jat (khap) panchayat.
The Bombay High Court has directed the state government to frame guidelines to curb the menace of social boycott. It has also sought to know whether the government is readying a draft law to prevent incidents of excommunication.
Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act, 1949
Sixty six years ago, when present-day Maharashtra and Gujarat were known as the Bombay province, the state had passed the Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act, 1949. The focus of that law was to protect the civil, social and religious rights of those excommunicated by their own communities. The law, however, was short-lived. In 1962, after a prolonged legal battle, the Supreme Court declared the Act unconstitutional.
Now, more than 50 years later, Maharashtra has a second chance to deal with the practice of social boycotting with the new bill.
The Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act was enacted in 1949 largely because of redressal sought by boycotted members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, a close-knit sect of Shia Islam. The Act prohibited the expulsion of any person from his or her religious creed, caste or sub-caste and held any such excommunication to be invalid. Under the law, no community could deprive a person of their right to property, to worship in religious places, to perform funeral rites or other rituals. In 1951, however, the leader of the Dawoodi Bohras, Syedna Taher Saifuddin, challenged the Prevention of Excommunication Act in the Bombay High Court. The Syedna’s contention was that the Act infringed upon his constitutional freedom of religion by curtailing his right, as the religious head, to discipline the community by casting out “errant” members.
When the High Court upheld the Act, the Syedna appealed in the Supreme Court and in 1962, a five-judge bench finally gave a divided verdict. A minority among the judges wanted the Act to be upheld, but the majority Judgement regarded excommunication as a legitimate practice of a community that had to be protected under Article 26 of the Constitution, which grants individuals the freedom to manage religious affairs. The apex court concluded that the Prevention of Excommunication Act was unconstitutional. Technically, the matter isn’t over, because reformist Bohras [who had been excommunicated] filed a review petition that is still pending in the Supreme Court,” said Irfan Engineer, a human rights activist and reformist Bohra whose father, Asghar Ali Engineer, was boycotted by the Dawoodi Bohras in the 1970s.
All these years later, Engineer believes a new law against social boycott would be a welcome step. “If there is a law, people would fear the repercussions of ostracising others,” he said. “In the absence of a law, communities get emboldened to propagate boycotts, as we see with the Bohras or caste panchayats. The call for a new legislation against social boycotting came in 2013, when the Bombay High Court was hearing a petition by two ostracised members of the Koli community from Raigad. The court Ordered the state government to draft a legislation in order to deter the social boycotts imposed by caste panchayats on individuals who transgress caste norms. The court had also insisted that police stations across Maharashtra should treat cases of social boycott by caste panchayats as criminal offences, under sections on conspiracy, intimidation, extortion or promoting enmity between different groups.