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Virginity tests for brides, ban on inter-caste marriages: This couple rebelled against Kanjarbhat customs

The Indrekars did the unthinkable when they chose not to follow marital customs, including a virginity test for brides, laid down by the panchayat.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2018 08:33 IST
Yesha Kotak
Yesha Kotak
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Kanjarbhat,Denotified tribes,Panchayats
Aruna Inderkar and Krishna had no support when they decided not to follow marital customs laid down by the panchayat. (Satish Bate/HT Photo)

A young and educated Kanjarbhat couple in rural Maharashtra chose to marry in a court 21 years ago and defy the community’s traditional and strict wedding customs — an audacious act that made them and their families social outcasts.

Krishna Indrekar and Aruna Indrekar, née Tamaiche, and their son continue be pariahs for the Kanjarbhats, a de-notified tribe or vimukta jati, although the 51-year-old man’s family “accepted” them last year.

The Indrekars did the unthinkable when they chose not to follow marital customs, including a virginity test for brides, laid down by the caste panchayat. They ignored the family’s plan for a traditional wedding and signed up with a marriage registrar.

The couple refused to follow the “regressive practices” and moved out of the community. But their families suffered a backlash. The humiliation and social ostracism stopped after they paid a fine and performed “dev dharm” rituals.

According to customary rules, the families have to pay “khushi”, or a fee, to the panchayat after the wedding ceremony. The couple is then sent to a lodge and the bride is called khota maal, or defective, if she doesn’t bleed when they intimate.

The woman has to undergo an agnipariksha, or a fire test, in which she is asked to carry a hot axe. She is considered “pure” if her hands don’t burn during the trial. If she fails, which happens most often, the family has to pay a penalty to the panchayat.

“Girls in the community are not allowed to study. By the time they are 14 years old parents are already looking for a suitable match, and get her married even before she is 18. Parents are always worried that if a girl goes to college, she will find someone and if she isn’t virgin, the community will not accept her,” said Aruna, who is 48.

Aruna, who is from a village in Radhanagari taluka, 50km from Kolhapur city, believes she has been lucky because her family lived away from the community and stood by her decision to support Krishna.

Young Kanjarbhats are now questioning these customs. There was outrage when around 60 youngsters from the community, which has an estimated population of around 25,000 in Maharashtra, started a social media campaign called StopVtest.

The community has a concept of bandpeti, or settled marriage, for couples who got physically intimate before their wedding. The girl is then accepted only after a certain fine is paid.

Inter-caste marriages are not allowed. If a girl married someone outside the community, she is excommunicated. But when a man wants to marry a woman from another community, she is accepted after a raft of rituals.

For her part, Aruna takes pride in the fact that she and her four siblings challenged the norms by opting for higher education almost three decades before the campaign against virginity test started.

Even then, her grandmother chaperoned her to school. “I wasn’t aware of the virginity test till I turned 11. Then I mentally prepared myself for these customs. But I didn’t know that my husband had different plans for our life,” Aruna said.

Krishna and his family are living in Mumbai since 2003, the year he got transferred to the city. He is a director of accounts at charity commissioner’s office, the regulatory authority of charitable trusts.

“Our community has always followed rudhi parampara (regressive practices), which is a well-known fact by the judiciary, executive and legislature. A 17-year-old bride failed the virginity test recently. She was thrashed. No one takes action against the caste panchayat,” Krishna said.

Under Section IV of the Maharashtra Protection of People form Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, boycotting a person from the community is an offence.

“Society boycotted us, but we have always wished good for our community, which is why the seed sown by us is growing today,” Krishna said.

The Indrekars are role models for the young people challenging the deep-seated customs. “When people face problems from the panchayat, they approach Krishna uncle,” said Akshay Tamaichekar, a postgraduate student in Mumbai University.

First Published: Feb 03, 2018 08:31 IST