Kanjarbhat community stands divided over virginity test

The tension between the protesters and the community members is palpable at every wedding attended by the protesters. The protesters have gained the attention of the government, police as well as international media, but the problem is far from being resolved.

pune Updated: Mar 13, 2018 15:42 IST
Shalaka Shinde
Shalaka Shinde
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Maharashtra,Kanjarbhat ommunity
Ranjit Patil, minister of state, home, Maharastra assured police action against any advocates of the custom. (Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

The virginity test of a newly married bride of the Kanjarbhat community has polarised the community in a lopsided war against the youth who are opposing the custom. A mixed group of people are opposing the protesters. This large section of people includes the old guard of the community, a major group of working class group of men and women of the community, and the young followers of the community elders. Effectively, the group of 40-45 odd protesters stand against the very people who live around them.

On February 28, Ranjit Patil, minister of state, home, Maharashtra, assured police action against any advocates of the custom.

Eight days after the discussion in the council, the women supporting the virginity test observed International Women's Day as black day for their community. Besides levelling allegations at the protesters for spreading bad word about the community, the women have also claimed that young women of the community now have to face taunts while walking on the streets.

BLOOD ON A SHEET SPLITS UNITY
Six months ago, a discussion regarding virginity test of a newly married bride of the Kanjarbhat community has divided the community in a lopsided war against the youth who are opposing the custom.
Virginity test is a ritual in the Kanjarbhat community meant to ascertain the ‘purity’ of the bride.
While the young protesters claim that the ritual is still in practice, the elders of the community claim that it is a thing of the past.
However, some community elders also claim that the decision to perform the test is taken by the bride and groom’s families.
The protesters claim that a set of panch hold a meeting after a newly married couple consummate their marriage and ask the groom if the bride is "khari" (pure) or "khoti" (impure).
No police case has been filed in the matter as the police cite lack of evidence or counter statements from bride-groom.
Some women from the community have spoken in support of the ritual.
Events overthe past year
NOVEMBER 25, 2017: Siddhant Indrekar, 21, a protester, approached the Vishrantwadi police with a video of apanchayat (village council) member acceptingmoney from relatives of abride and groomfromthe area.
DECEMBER 8, 2017: Police dismiss the case citing lack of evidence.
DECEMBER 13, 2017: Siddhant meets Deepak Sakore, deputy commissioner of police, zone-4.
DECEMBER 24, 2017: Protesting youth gather at Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti’s (MANS) Sadhana Media Centre to gather force against the ritual.
JANUARY 21, 2018: Protesting youth allege assault by community members fortrying to stop asuspected virginity test after a wedding in the community.
JANUARY 22, 2018: Case under Sections 143, 147, 149, 323, 506, 427 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) registered against community members for assaulting protesting youth.
FEBRUARY 6, 2018: Various women’s rights groups and activists including VidyaBal, Shanta Ranade, Advocate Asim Sarode, among others, joinedhands withthe protesters
FEBRUARY 7, 2018: Advocate Murchand Bhat, a Kanjarbhat communityelder, states that the choice to conduct a virginity test or not, is the decision of the bride and groom’s families.
FEBRUARY 18, 2018: Protesting youth call police to Samay Palace lodge claiming anewly married couple was under going thetest.
FEBRUARY 19, 2018: The bride and groom record statements that no test was conducted.
FEBRUARY 19, 2018: Panchayatheld to issue "khare ka certificate" (certificate of purity)to the bride.
FEBRUARY 21, 2018: Krishna Indekar’s car was vandalised during a community leader’s family wedding. A non-cognisable case was filed. The 55-year-old is aprotester of the custom.
FEBRUARY 28, 2018: MLC Neelam Gorhe raises issue in state assembly, Dr Rajit Patil, minister of state, home, Maharashtra, ensures police actions against virginity test advocates.
DIFFERING VIEWS
This test is against the right to privacy of a person. Not just in nomadic tribes, it is even prevalent in upper classes to suspect a woman’s character. They just don’t do it under the name of ‘jaat’ panchayats.
SHANTA RANADE, convening member, Bharatiya Mahila Federation (93-years-old)
This is a bad kind of offshoot of patriarchy because you expect so much of purity from women but what about men? We believe in equality. So no man has any right to declare a woman as impure.
VIDYA BAL, a senior writer and activist from Pune (80-years-old)
The claim that panch sits outside the room of the bride and groom while they consummate the marriage is totally false. This practice had started around 400 years ago when our community was nomadic. Now, times have changed.
MURCHAND BHAT, advocate
An offence will be registered if virginity tests are discussed publicly and instructions will be given to all the police stations in the state to take action against the accused.
RANJIT PATIL, minister of state for home in legislative council
Graphics: Hitesh Mathur

The 26 Pune-based women of the community, who support the custom, have demanded an apology from the protesters for defaming the women of the community at large.

"In Kanjarbhat community, even if a girl is asked to undergo a virginity test, it is a decision made by the families of the bride and groom. No elder citizens or relatives are involved in the matter," said a statement released by the group of women led by a community member, Bhawna Minekar, a resident of Yerawada area in Pune. In the statement, the women also alleged that since the matter has come to public atttention, the women of the community have to put up with stray comments from "anti-social elements" on the streets.

While the women allege that the protesters did not try to reach out to them before spreading word through media, the protesting youth have said that the community members have ostracised them from the community.

At a wedding on the night of February 25, Priyanka Tamchikar, a 25-year-old protester of the virginity custom, had called for media presence and police protection at a wedding from her maternal family. Manoj Machre, and Advocate Murchand Bhat, both known community leaders from Pune, were present at the wedding. Tamchikar was asked to leave the venue of the wedding multiple times while the community members kept passing comments about her being an outsider, unwelcome at her cousin brother's wedding.

Tamchikar accepted Christianity a few months ago and has been at the forefront of the protest along with Vivek Tamaichikar, a student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), who is spear-heading the prootest.

The tension between the protesters and the community members is palpable at every wedding attended by the protesters. The protesters have gained the attention of the government, police as well as international media, but the problem is far from being resolved.

First Published: Mar 13, 2018 15:42 IST