Spent with tears, the septuagenarian mother of Rupesh Bagkar turned her anger, at a recent press conference, on the members of the jat panchayat of Tamastirtha village, Dapoli taluka in Konkan. Her son had jumped into a well on September 2.
“My son has not committed suicide. They (jat panchayat) killed him. They boycotted our family after a small tiff and my son was humiliated. They (panchayat members) asked the community not to sit in my son’s rickshaw. He was pushed to the brink. This is murder…” she said in agony.
The members had boycotted him for a year after an argument. He paid Rs 8,500 as fine, but the members insisted he ask for forgiveness from every household of the community. He refused.
The Bhandari Jat Panchayat member and former sarpanch of the village Shrirang Bagkar said the panchayat had done nothing wrong.”The panchayat doesn’t discriminate,” he told some members of the media.
A jat panchayat is a traditional dispute resolution institution which usually decides matrimonial, property or the caste-related disputes regarding customs and rituals. Those guilty of violation of rules, traditions or customs or for marrying an outsider are fined heavily , excommunicated, boycotted or expelled. Such ostracism leads to dire steps__ Arun Naikunji, a member of the Lingayat Gawli community , commit ted suicide in Pune last month after his family was boycotted for two years by the jat panchayat for suppor ting an inter-caste marriage.
The social boycott can al so get bizarre. In June, a man from Nashik divorced his wi fe immediately after marria ge. The couple belong to the Kanjarbhat community. Its panchayat members wait outside after a wedding, whi le the couple has intercourse on a plain white cloth which is then displayed to prove that the bride is a virgin, fai ling which the marriage is summarily invalidated.
It can also get ugly. Early this year, members of the Gondhali jat panchayat in Parbhani told a villager that they would rape his wife if he failed to repay a loan to the panchayat. The couple fled to Nashik.
While the Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, awaits the Presi dent’s nod, cases of atrocities by traditional jat panchay at continue across the state. Activists want the state government and politicians to earnestly pursue the matter.
The state assembly in April unanimously approved the bill, which proposes action against extra-judicial bodies like caste and community panchayats, and prescribes a maximum punishment of three years in jail. As per the bill, the offence of imposing social boycott will attract maximum punishment of three years in prison or a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh, or both. Abetment also draws the same punishment and fine.
“The state government has forwarded the bill to the Centre on May 7, 2016. It will need clearance from six central ministries and only then will the President will give his final nod and the gazette will be published. We are continuously following it up,” Avinash Patil, executive president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), told TOI.
The samiti has been following the matter for years and its founder late Narendra Dabholkar was at the forefront of the battle against jat panchayats.
Patil said after the state approved the bill, people have been more open about complaining against jat panchayats.
“There are many waiting for the bill to be approved. Once the law comes into existence, hundreds of complaints will be filed by those who have faced harassment from jat panchayats,” Patil said.
The samiti in its study has observed that when police cases are filed against jat panchayats, the victims’ family withdraws them as they have to live within the caste and community. In a majority of cases, including Nai kunji’s suicide in Pune last month, the families of the victims later said they had no complaints against the jat panchayat.
Krishna Chandugade, coordinator of Jat Panchayat Muthmati Abhiyan, said as of now police are authorized to register complaints against caste panchayats but only after permission from the home ministry . The effort is time-consuming.
The poor and vulnerable communities, and women are usually the victims of jat panchayats. “This so-called judiciary system, which runs a parallel government, exploits the poor and women in their respective communities. In the name of a panchayat, this oppressive system has destroyed thousands of lives,” Kiran Moghe of Janwadi Mahila Sanghatna said.
Activist Arun Khore said scheduled castes and tribes are mired in the jat panchayat system. “As a modern society we have failed to curb these inhuman practices. The movement against jat panchayat started in Maharashtra in the 1970s but till date we have not been able to stop this extra-judicial system.”
Advocate Varsha Despande of Dalit Mahila Vikas Mandal said jat panchayats were needed. “Not all are discriminatory . Some are pro-women and give speedy justice to them. Jat panchayats have a long tradition and this system is more efficient in meting out justice. Its system must be reformed within the constitutional framework instead of being completely discarded,” Deshpande added.http://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/with-panchayat-punishments-like-rape-and-public-humiliation-activists-are-fighting-back-261548.html