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06 Feb 2018

Kanjarbhat community: Of misogyny, virginity tests and a generational clash

Kanjarbhat community, Maharashtra's de-notified tribe with an estimated population of 25,000, is known for its deeply patriarchal caste panchayat, misogynistic matrimonial traditions, obsession with virgin brides, a keen interest in monetary fines and love for ostracizing dissenters.

However, despite community-binding regressive laws, its millennials are breaking free.

Here's a look at the growing rift within the clan as the young clash with the old.

In context

Kanjarbhat community and the obsession with virginity

The rules

The community codes for women are sexist and many

The tribe's codes had been passed down orally for generations. They were printed as a booklet in 2000 by a local panchayat body and have since then become the de-facto tribal constitution.

Its ethics of conduct largely focus on restraining girls. According to it, they must not study, should be betrothed before they are 18 and be excommunicated if they marry outside the community.

Wedding customs

The panchayat fills its coffers as the brides get humiliated

The Kanjarbhat wedding traditions are modelled to insult women and fill the panchayat's pockets.

The panchs get paid throughout. They get "khushi", a celebratory fee, after the ceremony, a fine if the bride doesn't bleed on consummation, another penalty if the couple has had premarital sex.

It's also paid if the bride drops the hot axe she's made to carry to test her purity.

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Despite ban, the caste panchayat rules supreme

No change

Despite ban, the caste panchayat rules supreme

If the fines are not paid or the panchayat disrespected, the offending family is ostracized from the community.

Though the Maharashtra Protection of People form Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016, has made ostracizing a person a punishable offence, no action is taken against the panchayat.

Since 2017, they no longer openly assemble, but still wield as much control.

The dissenters

Younger generation is questioning, challenging traditions

However, cracks have begun to appear. The community suffered its first blow 21 years ago when its members Krishna and Aruna Indrekar refused to take the virginity test and chose a court wedding.

More recently, 60 Kanjarbhat youths started StopVtest, a social media campaign demanding to end the practice. Much to older generation's horror, school/college boys waved white handkerchiefs stained with red ink drops.

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