January 4, 2019 8:38:04 am
Complaining of yet another case of forced ‘virginity test’ on a newly-married woman of the Kanjarbhat community, activists of the community, as well as members of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), have written to two state ministers, seeking intervention of the state government in stopping the practice.
Krushna Indrekar, who belongs to Kanjarbhat community and is a state government officer, has written an email to Ranjit Patil, minister of state for home affairs, claiming that a newly-married highly-educated couple from well-to-do families had, under pressure of the caste panchayat, performed the ‘virginity test’ on the bride. A similar letter was submitted to Rajkumar Badole, minister for social justice, by MANS members, citing the same case.
“We met the minister (Rajkumar Badole) today and discussed this issue with him. We informed him about the things that are going on in the name of tradition. He agreed that the issue was serious and that steps needed to be taken to stop it,” said Nandini Jadhav, a member of MANS.
Indrekar said in his letter to Ranjit Patil, he had reminded the minister of his own assurance in the state legislative assembly on February 28 last year, when, replying to Shiv Sena’s Neelam Gorhe, he had said that essential protection would be provided to those who come forward with complaints against ‘virginity tests’.
“We have reminded the minister of his assurance. And we have asked him to take action against those involved in forcing couples to undergo this test. We have requested him to take steps to end this discriminatory practice,” Indrekar said.
Without formal complaints, difficult to build a case
While members of the WhatsApp group are doing a commendable job in spreading awareness about the regressive practice, state administration or law enforcement agencies have so far found it difficult to intervene in the absence of a complaint from a victim couple or their family members. The community activists claim that they have received good support for their campaign, but no one wants to come forward and lodge an official complaint due to pressure from the elders and caste panchayat. Police, and even state government ministers, have said that action would be taken if a complaint is registered, but so far there have been none.
The two communications to the ministers have not named the couple in the latest case, or anyone else. However, Indrekar said the groom in this case was the son of a businessman and he had completed his higher education abroad. The bride, he said, was the daughter of a retired government official.
Activists like Indrekar have been running a campaign against their community practice through a WhatsApp group for the last several months. According to them, married couples in their community are asked to spend their first night in a hotel room and given a white sheet to be put on the bed. The girl, they claim, is said to have passed the virginity test if the couple are able to show blood stains on the white sheet the next morning. Otherwise, the girl is punished according to community customs, they say.
Their campaign has received a lot of support, but also earned them enemies from within their own community. A few members have even been physically attacked last year due to their campaign. Indrekar and MANS activists on Thursday alleged that the practice of ‘virginity test’ was still rampant in the community, and those not following the ‘tradition’ were being socially boycotted. Indrekar said the practice was particularly rampant in Aurangabad, Nashik and Pune districts. Vivek Tamaichikar, founder of the WhatsApp group ‘Stop the V-ritual’, said his group would continue to fight against the practice.
Meanwhile, Kanjarbhat elders denied that such a practice was being followed in their community. “All allegations regarding a virginity test are false. Those making false allegations do not have any evidence showing that a virginity test was conducted. If they come to us with evidence, we are ready to discuss the issue with them. Also, if there is evidence then they should submit it to the proper authorities for legal action. The Kanjarbhat community believes in giving freedom and respect to its women,” said Ganesh Machhare, one of the community leaders.
In March last year, hundreds of Kanjarbhats, including several women from Pune and other areas, had marched on the city streets under the banner of ‘Akhil Maharashtra Kanjarbhat Samaj Mahila Kruti Samiti’, opposing the campaign against ‘virginity tests’. They had submitted a letter to the district collector, stating that the tradition of ‘virginity test’ was meant to ensure that the character and values of the family were protected.
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