Coming down heavily on caste panchayats in Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court today 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 order was passed by division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and G S Patel, which asked the state to discuss this issue in the meeting of the Social Justice Department. The court also asked the Home Department to forward to all the police stations a circular of September 30, which says that social boycott by a caste panchayat should be treated as an offence under the Indian Penal Code.
The circular has already been issued to the Police commissionerates and to Superintendents of police. But the judges said that it should reach every police station. "It is high time that the state that boasts of social reformers and (of) shaping the destiny of several persons took steps to curb this social evil," said the bench.
The High Court was hearing a PIL filed by Ganesh Atmaram and Jaganath Waghare, who belong to Koli community and hail from neighbouring Raigad district, alleging that they are facing a boycott by the local caste panchayat. They are not allowed to attend marriages and funerals of relatives, and other members of the community have been asked to break off relations with them, the PIL says. They are not even given the government-subsidised diesel for their fishing boats, the petition alleges.
The High Court ordered the local police to record their statements, and take action as per the circular. "If a cognisable offence is made out, an FIR should be registered against the accused," said the court, adjourning the hearing to November 23.
The HC said that caste panchayats should not cross limits of the law and they have no right to violate the fundamental right of equality guaranteed by Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. "It should not happen that some persons in the name of caste panchayats violate fundamental rights of others," the Judges said. "Police should come forward and reach out to the victims of social boycott. It is the responsibility of police to be compassionate to the victims and ensure that crimes are reported and the guilty are booked," the High Court said.
The government circular says in such cases, offences can be registered under the IPC sections 120(b) (conspiracy), 503 (intimidation), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race etc) and 383 (extortion).