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Bride and groom’s families deny virginity test conducted at Kanjarbhat wedding in Pune

A girl from Pune married a boy from Kolhapur in a traditional Kanjarbhat community ceremony at Vishrantwadi on Monday.

pune Updated: Feb 22, 2018 15:54 IST
Shalaka Shinde
Shalaka Shinde
Hindustan Times, Pune
Kanjarbhat,Pune,Virginity test
The panchayat met on Tuesday night around 9:15 pm on the street that divides two houses in Bhatnagar area of Yerawada in Pune. (HT PHOTO)

Pune The protest mustered by the youth of Kanjarbhat community against the virginity test of brides has shed light on a complex social structure of the community.

When the protest was first registered, local leaders of the community had refused to acknowledge the existence of the ritual. Months later, advocate Murchand Bhat, who is a local community leader, agreed that the test happens but people from the panchayat are not involved. It is the prerogative of the family members of the bride and the groom who decide whether they want the test or not. On the other hand, Kavichand Bhat, the former mayor of Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), has on multiple occasions denied the practice.

However, on Monday night, a girl from Pune married a boy from Kolhapur in a traditional ceremony at Vishrantwadi. After the marriage, the two, along with their family members, went to Samay Palace Lodge in Tingrenagar area of Vishrantwadi. While there is no proof of what conspired at the lodge, the protesters of the virginity test ritual called the police and reported that the newly-weds were undergoing a virginity test.

“Nothing of that sort was happening there. The bride and the groom have recorded their statement saying that they were not put through any such test. So we did not register a case,” said Sangeeta Patil, senior inspector of Vishrantwadi police station. “The family (of the groom) was from Kolhapur and the wedding ceremonies ended around midnight. So the family members decided to live in a lodge,” she said.

The nuptials in the Kanjarbhat community do not end with a wedding. The bride has to undergo a virginity test on the first night after their wedding. The test proves whether the girl is “khari” (pure) or “khoti” (impure). Later, the husband has to pronounce thrice whether the bride is pure or not during a panchayat meeting that is held after the wedding night, according to Janabai Indrekar, a 90-year-old community woman who has raised her voice against the ritual.

“The practice had started around 400 years ago when our community was nomadic and were not allowed to stay in a place for more than three days. The girls in our community are very beautiful. The local people started the custom to draw a “Lakshman Rekha” (protective line) to protect our daughters. Now times have changed,” said advocate Bhat, adding that, “Every family voluntarily decides to follow these customs. It is a familial issue.”

In the case of the wedding which took place on Monday, the panchayat met on Tuesday night around 9:15 pm on the road that divides two houses in Bhatnagar area of Yerawada. A panch dressed in a purple shirt and a black trouser sat with a thick bamboo painted white. He spoke in the Kanjarbhat language, similar to Hindi, and said, “Chori Halal Ho Gai” (girl has been sacrificed) and “Khare Ka Certificate Denge” (we will give you a certificate of purity) after a seemingly heated exchange with an elder from the girl’s family. While the girl in question has completed Class 12 education, the groom is believed to be an engineer. The panchayat was convened in the narrow lane between two rows of houses. One of the houses was that of Siddhant Indrekar and his family who is at the forefront of the protest against the ritual.

When Hindustan Times tried to approach the bride and asked the community members for the name of the panch who was holding the white bamboo, the crowd surrounded us in order to block our way; asking if we had recorded anything. The incident caused furore in the area and the bride was taken to a room and the door was latched.

“After you left, the community members came near my house and as if to mock us, distributed money to 5-10 panch (for issuing the purity certificate),” said Siddhant.

Siddhant, who plans to get married this year, and his family have faced ostracism from the community. The behaviour meted out to his family is illegal under the Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016.

The initial draft of the law, named Jat Panchayat Act, 2015 (draft), had demanded that the convention of jat panchayat itself be criminalised. However, the final draft of the law which was passed, criminalises convention of jat panchayats with an intention of provoking community members to ostracise people.

The national head of the All India Kanjarbhat Association is advocate Ratan Kordekar, who is a public prosecutor in Gujarat. The women’s head of the association, Shakuntala Bhat, is a scientist and daughter-in-law of advocate Bhat. Vivek Tamaichikar, who is at the forefront of the protest, is a student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and his fiance Aishwarya Bhat is the granddaughter of Kavichand Bhat.

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First Published: Feb 22, 2018 15:52 IST