ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Social Boycott Act

Constitutional Validity and Article 26

The Maharashtra law prohibiting social boycotts is a progressive one, protecting people from social hierarchies that are trying to punish them for transgressing regressive social mores. Since an earlier law outlawing excommunication was struck down by the Supreme Court for infringing the right of religious denominations to manage their own affairs, the constitutional validity of the social boycott law raises questions which this article tries to answer.

Social boycott is a weapon used in rural and some urban communities to reinforce hierarchies and power structures. The more apt term for it may be “ostracism,” where an individual is banished from a society (if not physically, then from all public places and socially) on the judgment of the powers that be for a perceived breach of that society’s rules.

In India, it is deployed against the deprived sections of society—including women and lower castes—but sometimes also the members of the same community to get them to toe the line (Johari 2015). It has been used against women who stepped out of their homes to get jobs, men and women who have refused the diktats of the caste panchayats, and sometimes, out of sheer jealousy and spite. It is aimed at making the lives of the boycotted as difficult as possible, cutting them from all the facilities, social interactions and public places that make life meaningful. It is often used to “punish” Dalit and oppressed communities who try to gain some level of social mobility or economic opportunity.

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