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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

The Kanjarbhat Community Punishes ‘Non-Virgin’ Brides, And This Young Man Is Challenging Them

  • IWB Post
  •  December 25, 2017

A newly-married couple, their wedding night, a closed room and a crowd sitting outside, intent on knowing if the girl bled during sexual intercourse, itching to judge her character. Sounds rather crass, eh? But what I am recounting here is no mere tale, this is the reality that every woman of the Kanjarbhat community has to live through.

May 12, the date that had been set for Vivek Tamaichikar’s wedding, who hails from the same community, with his fiancee Aishwarya. But now, the future looks rather uncertain because Vivek has vowed that no matter what he won’t let his wife face this insult to her dignity. A community where even highly educated members meekly follow the practice, he, a final-year postgraduate student, started to question its existence.

Forming a WhatsApp group ‘Stop The V Ritual’, Vivek, along with many youngsters like him, took a small but crucial step towards uprooting this tradition. It goes without saying that he has picked a tough battle, but the man I spoke to was too brave to back out anytime soon. Excerpts

I may be out on a limb here, but something tells me your community isn’t very happy with your initiative?

Oh no, they are so not. I was called insane for going against the wishes of the Panchayat and insulting the laws of our community. I have received threatening messages asking me to give up or bear the results of my actions. Even the members of the group are threatened and pressurized by their respective families.

Kanjarbhat Community

Vivek Tamaichikar

But what about your fiance? How is she reacting to your decision?

The day we got engaged, I told her that whenever we get married, I won’t allow this baseless practice to mark me as its victim. Though afraid of what the consequences may be, she was happy that I chose to respect her in this way.

Not only her but every woman in your community! But before starting this group, did you try and talk things out with your elders?

Obviously! I didn’t decide to unleash my rebel side without trying that first. Aishwarya and I both tried to make our respective families ditch the age-old myths of virginity and comprehend its scientific facts. We wanted them to understand that above all it is the blatant disregard of the right to privacy. I even talked to Aishwarya’s grandfather who holds a position of power in the community. I thought that if he agrees then everything would become much easier, but he outrightly denied, saying that he can give up on anything but not the support of his society. That was the moment I decided to use social media to give my voice a platform.

And seeing as you had to make this WhatsApp group, I can assume that convincing other elders in your family did not go well either.

Nope, in fact, they started dishing out those hidden threats, hints that if I don’t give up, my marriage may never happen after all. And more than that, no one in the Kanjarbhat community would want to get their girl married to me. I approached the Panchayat, but there I was just asked to visit this man and that person. They were expecting me to eventually get tired and give up.

But you did not. Pardon my implications here, but speaking from my experiences with WhatsApp groups, I don’t find that the decisions made there are taken seriously.

I had the same doubt initially *he laughs* and that’s the reason I called an in-person meeting of all the members of the WhatsApp group in Akurdi on December 3 to plan an awareness campaign. Our community is spread in places like Ambernath in Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Ahmedabad and many other places.

Kanjarbhat Community

The Whatsapp group’s display picture

And we have another meeting on December 24 in Pune, wherein we plan to hold a workshop and educate people about the Social Boycott Prevention Act, which was passed this year by the Maharashtra government. The fear of boycott that people hold will be diminished significantly by this.

Formed in October, the group ‘Stop The V Ritual’ has close to 50 members and while Vivek expected the youth of his community to be wary of following his lead, one of the initial members of his group was his cousin, who finds the practice equally derogatory and wants to challenge the personal Constitution their Panchayat follows and forces them to do the same.

So, this group comprises of only the youth of your community?

Initially, it did, but now we are gradually getting the support of others as well. Like my maternal uncle, Krishna got married in 1996 but went for a court marriage instead to avoid it all. He was boycotted from the Kanjarbhat community. Imagine waging war against these set laws in a time when garnering the support of like-minded people wasn’t as easy as it is today.

Kanjarbhat Community

Krishna and Aruna Indrekar

What a brave man! But this virginity test, what happens if the bride fails it or the groom, due to the pressure, is unable to go through with it?

In the latter, both the bride and groom are forced to watch a porn film to ‘make something happen,’ as they say. And God forbid if the former happens! The bride is beaten by her family, accused of having carnal relations and called ‘characterless’. If she did have sex before marriage and tells the name of the man whom she slept with, he is beaten up as well and his shudhikaran is done because in their eyes he committed a ‘paap’.

And the marriage, it continues?

Yep, although earlier, it used to end if the woman failed the test, and I think it was better. Now, the woman continues to live with a family where even her taking a loud breath is not allowed just because she had sex before marriage. Oh, this community is full of atrocities against women.

You mean apart from this, there is more torture that a woman goes through?

Yes, and in ways that you would be scared to even imagine. In the Nandurbar district of Maharashtra, a part of our community resides. There is a woman whose husband expired some years ago and what did the people there do? Without any evidence, they claimed that she had a salacious relationship with her brother-in-law.

You know what they called ‘giving her a chance to prove her innocence?’ They made her walk with a blazing ball of iron, saying that if she is ‘pure’ it won’t burn her. While many bear this injustice mutely, she went ahead and protested, an action which made her in-laws throw her out of the house. Living with her two children in her mother’s house, she has also joined us.

I could never understand our society which calls a woman the holder of a family’s izzat and yet she ends up being the one whose dignity is constantly targeted.

This is a patriarchal mindset that just refuses to die. A woman’s education, her dignity, her soul, everything is set aside apart from the fact that she goes ‘intact’ to her husband’s house. Who places a woman’s virginity in her vagina? Why does it matter if the woman ever slept with anyone and why is the man exempted from these senseless boundations?

This is not just an issue in my community but sadly the building block that our consciousness rests on. I know I sound very dejected but let’s face it- it will take a lot of fighting to change anything here.

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