Virginity test: Kanjarbhat community takes out march, action sought against WhatsApp group

Pune: Hundreds of people belonging to the Kanjarbhat community, mostly women and many from outside Pune, on March 26 took part in a march to the district collector’s office. They submitted a memorandum seeking action against the group that has been campaigning against the practice of “virginity tests” of brides within the community.
The memorandum, handed over to the Resident District Collector, Rajendra Muthe, by an all-woman delegation said the tradition of “virginity tests” in the community was to ensure that “character, values in the family is protected”. It claimed that every woman in the community honored the “great tradition” by considering it a “Lakshaman Rekha.” The Kanjarbhat community is a nomadic tribe in Maharashtra.
The march and the memorandum came within two days of a fresh incident of a possible motivated attack on the group of youths that is campaigning against the “virginity tests”. On Saturday, three motorbikes belonging to members of a WhatsApp group named “Stop The V-Ritual” that is running the campaign, were found to have been damaged. Members of the group had come under attack earlier as well.
The community members who took out the march on Monday blamed the group for filing false police complaints, creating hurdles in traditional rituals followed by the community, defaming women of the community, and making baseless allegations against the caste panchayat.
“Girls in the Kanjarbhat community are given proper education, freedom. Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao movement has been going on in the community for the last 500 years. But the government officer, Krushna Indrekar from Mumbai, Vivek Tamaichikar, Priyanka Tamaichikar of Pimpri, Siddhant Indrekar of Yerwada, Surabh Machhale of Wadgaonsheri (all members of WhatsApp group) are defaming the women in the community by making baseless allegations… Nobody is socially boycotted by the community. But the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti is consistently making statements that caste panchayat members should be booked under the law against social boycott,” the memorandum stated.
It is the second time that the community has come out publicly against the campaigners. On the International Women’s Day earlier this month, some community women had spoken against the campaigners, saying “virginity test” was a matter between the family members of the bride and groom, and that no woman had been victimized. They had even alleged that the campaigners had “conspired” to defame the community “for financial gains”.
Ganesh Machhare, one of those present at the march, said the resident district collector had listened to their demands and assured them that he would look into the matter. He claimed the official had also promised to take up the matter with Pune Police Commissioner Rashmi Shukla.
Hasan Malke, a senior citizen from the community, said the campaigners were focusing on irrelevant issues. “These anti-social elements (members of the WhatsApp group), including a senior government officer, have done nothing for educating our girls or providing jobs to our youths. They are ignoring the real problems that are being faced by our community and focusing on wrong issues,”
Malke said.
“Stop The V-Ritual” group was formed by Vivek Tamaichikar, a Masters student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. Tamaichikar and his colleagues claim that newly-married women in their community have to give proof of their virginity on their wedding night. A married couple is asked to spend their first night in a hotel room and is given a white sheet to be put on the bed, they claimed. The couple have to show blood stains on the sheet the next morning, failing which, the girl is punished, according to the community customs.
The group’s campaign has received strong support in the recent months from people within and outside the community. But it has also led to some clashes within community members. A few of the campaigners were beaten up at a marriage ceremony within the community in January. A month later, Krushna Indrekar, the government employee referred to in the memorandum, found his car damaged while he was attending a marriage in Pune.
On March 25, Indrekar was involved in a fresh conflict when he came to Bhatnagar area, inhabited mostly by community members, along with a journalist working for an Australian media house.
The journalist tried to take video shots of a puja being performed in one of the houses, prompting the Kanjarbhat families to approach the Yerawada police station. The police questioned Indrekar and let him go after a few hours. “The journalist was doing a story on the ‘virginity test’ issue. We did nothing wrong,” said Indrekar.

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