21-yr-old takes on caste panchayat to get her child marriage annulled
Married off when she was 7, Durgi wants to get rid of ‘married’ tag to be able to choose her life-partner this time.

After Mirror reported how 20-year-old Yogita Karale was put through a ‘virginity test’ by a caste panchayat in Ahemednagar, more girls like her are gathering strength to come forward with their stories.

One such girl is Durgi Shirkul. Durgi, who will turn 22 this month, belongs to Solapur’s Vaidu community, but lives in Jogeshwari’s Samartha Nagar, with her mother Chouri. She was married off as a seven-year-old to a boy who was around 10 years older than her. However, since the last few years, Durgi and her mother have been running from pillar to post to get her marriage annulled by the caste panchayat.

Durgi, who earns Rs 7,000 per month from her job at a factory manufacturing fan parts, is well aware that her child marriage has no legal standing. However, an annulment from the caste panchayat is mandatory for her to lose the ‘married’ tag in her community, especially if she wants to marry someone from within it.

“Despite not even remembering the boy’s name or face, people in my community call me married. I get upset and angry when they do this. I want to shout and tell them to not do so,” Durgi said, expressing her anguish.

But Durgi and her mother have only faced resistance in the hands of the caste panchayat members. “I have visited Solapur four times in the last year, and wasted Rs 4,000 on their alcohol. But they will still not declare my daughter divorced. Because of this, Durgi is not eligible for marriage within the community,” Chouri recounted.

Twenty-five-year-old Durga Gudilu, an activist from the same community who has successfully fought the menace of child marriage for her sister, is Durgi’s only silver lining. Together, they had approached the former Collector of Solapur for help. But his transfer got them back to the start. Though other district officials have met Durgi regarding the issue, it is imperative for her to get the marriage annulled by the caste panchayat. Durga told Mirror that Durgi’s so-called husband, Isha Varangati, an alcoholic, had come for her and had threatened to kidnap her. However, they decided to not cower, but to fight on. The Vaidu caste panchayat was dissolved recently, but Durgi is trying to get them to hold a meeting to annul her marriage. But attempts to contact the caste panchayat panch and Isha got no response from them.

Balkrishna Renke, senior activist and former chairman of National Commission for Nomadic and Semi-nomadic tribes, said, “These kinds of child-marriages are absolutely illegal. But we must understand the mentality of these tribes. Therefore, it is a must for Durgi that the caste panchayat declares her marriage annulled.”

But, despite the lack of any concrete action being taken to relive her of her plight, Durgi still remains hopeful. “Cutting off from my community is not the answer. I have not done anything to be ashamed of. I want everyone to know what happened to me so that this does not happen to anybody else,” she declared, clearly resolute that she will not back down without a fight. Durgi, a Class VII pass, wants to finish her education and marry by her choice this time.http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/others/21-yr-old-takes-on-caste-panchayat-to-get-her-child-marriage-annulled/articleshow/52580743.cms