In one community in India, it's the white sheets that determine women's virginity

In one community in India, its the white sheets that determine womens virginity

Governed by their own set of rules and a caste panchayat, Maharashtra's Kanjarbhat Tribe is a denotified tribe that migrated from Rajasthan to Western Maharashtra and Gujarat. With a population of about 50,000, they are known as "Bhantu" in Maharashtra and "Sansi" and "Chara" in Rajasthan and Gujrat respectively. In September 2000, the Akhil Bhartiya Sanhasamal Kanjarbhat Samaj Sangh- a community of leaders had put out the society's caste panchayat rules and regulations in a booklet that along with specifying the fees panchayat would take for resolving disputes, performing marriages and other rituals, punishments and penalties for adultery, incest, etc also mentions the
"Virginity Test Ritual"

The Kanjarbhat Gun Ritual

Known as the tradition of "Gun" in the community's term the Virginity Test is till date kept alive though this booklet. As per the mentioned rules and regulations the booklet makes it mandatory for a bride and a groom to go through this humiliating test to authenticate the bride's "chastity". A virginity test is conducted on the day of the wedding where the bride is given a white sheet, while the community elders wait outside the lodge for the couple to have their first intercourse. The booklet also states that if for any reason the virginity test cannot be conducted on the same day, the couple will be given three days time to do the test. What decides the bride's chastity are the blood stains on the white sheet. What makes it worse is that the very sheet is then shamelessly displayed in front of the whole community. The panchayat then asks the groom, "Maal khara ahe ka khota?" confirming whether the bride was a virgin or not. The crowd rejoices if the man says "khara" meaning "real".

Having survived through ages, the practice is imposed on all Kanjarbhat women including those living in the modern cities like Pune, Mumbai, Nashik. According to Nandini Jhadav from the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), an organisation giving support to youngsters fighting against this practice said that the community members put immense pressure for the virginity test to be conducted on the wedding night itself, to an extent where they force the bride and the groom to watch pornographic films and force the family members of both parties to push the couple. Women who fail this test have to face public humiliation, boycott and sometimes even physical harm, said Jhadav. All this, despite Maharashtra having imposed a law against social boycott, discrimination and extra-judicial power by caste panchayats.

Members within Community Fighting for a Change

Having seen the practice for years, Maharashtra Government Employee Krishna Indrekar and his wife Aruna, in 1996 were among the first few couples who refused to undergo the Virginity Test and decided on a registered court marriage. According to Aruna, the panchayat extracted Rs 1 lakh each from both of their families to let them be a part of the village. The couple over the years have inspired many young Kanjarbhats to condemn the practice and raise their voices against such forced regressive community practices. Over the past 3 months a movement called "Stop the V-Ritual" started as a Watsapp group by forty youngsters of Maharashtra has been gaining momentum.

Siddhant Indrekar, Krishna Indrekar's 21 years old nephew is one of the faces of this movement and in past has filed a police complaint against his community's caste panchayat in Pune's Vishrantwadi Police Station where members of the panchayat demanded Rs 5000 each from the bride's and groom's family, in one of his own relative's wedding. Siddhant had recorded a video of the same and shown it as an evidence to the police. Although nothing became of the complaint since both the families, under- pressure said that they were giving the money out of their own will.

On 5th and 6th of February, community members of the Kanjarbhat tribe have organised a meeting from across Maharashtra at Ichalkaranji, near Kolhapur to discuss the issue of community development.

Kavya Sharma

Kavya Sharma

Kavya Sharma is a poet and a womanist. She works as a content developer with Kalaage Creations Pvt. Ltd. and has been published on various platforms including Blasting News, Thought Catalog, Terribly Tiny Tales, Youth ki Awaaz, Out of Print Magazine, etc.

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