40 Kanjarbhat community members beat the victims, who are in the ‘Stop the V-Ritual’ WhatsApp group against regressive customs

Three Kanjarbhat youth, who are part of a WhatsApp group formed to oppose certain regressive practices of their caste panchayat, were allegedly beaten up by members of their community on Sunday night. The incident took place when the trio had gone to attend the wedding of a relative in Pimpri.

More than 40 people from the community, hailing from both Pune and Mumbai, had formed the group ‘Stop The V-Ritual’ over last year to spearhead a campaign on social media against practices like conducting a ‘virginity test’ on new brides. Pune Mirror had also published a report about the initiative on December 19 last year, when a Punebased married couple — who had been ostracised by the Kanjarbhat community — had joined hands with the group to raise awareness.

The three youths assaulted on Sunday by their community members have been identified as Saurabh Machale, Prashant Tamaichikar and Prashant Indrekar. A case has been registered against 40 Kanjarbhat community members, including Sunny Malake (25), Vinayak Malake (22), Amol Bhat (20), Rohit Ravalkar (21) and Nehul Tamchikar (23), all of whom are residents of Bhatnagar. Cases have for now been filed under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at Pimpri police station.

Assembly of elders

According to the police, the incident occurred around 11.30 p.m. on Sunday night. “A caste tribunal of the Kanjarbhat community assembled after a community marriage on Sunday night, where the ‘elders’ decreed that the bride had to take a virginity test. A number of panchayat members also vented their ire against Indrekar and his friends, who were present, for their campaign on social media speaking out against such practices,” said a senior official at the Pimpri police station.

As the argument heated up some 40 people swooped down on the three youths and hit them using fists and other blunt objects.

“They panchayat members demanded to know why we were bent upon ‘violating’ the tradition of the community by speaking on television and social media, against long-standing customs” said Mr. Indrekar.

In December last year, several progressive youngsters of the community, including Mr. Indrekar, created a WhatsApp group ‘Stop the V-Ritual’ which elicited enthusiastic response.

Mr. Tamchikar, student of TISS in Mumbai, is a co-creator of the group. The move has been strongly backed by Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS).

The regressive practice of a bridal ‘virginity test’ is rife within the Kanjarbhat community and is forcibly imposed through the diktats of illegal caste tribunals.

In it, a newly-married couple is generally taken to a hotel room and the groom is given a white bed-sheet and asked to use it during consummation.

If the groom displays a bedsheet with blood stains on it, the bride is believed to have ‘passed’ the test. If the bedsheet has no blood stains, the bride is accused by the tribunal of physical relationships in the past.

“In many instances, caste panchayat members actually sit outside the room during the act of sexual intercourse on the wedding night. It is to put an end to this degrading and demeaning practice and to preserve our dignity that we began the WhatsAppgroup,” said Mr. Indrekar.

Senior police inspector Shreedhar Jadhav of Pimpri PS shared that they are seeking a legal opinion about whether they can book the accused under the Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2016. He added that cops have arrested two accused in connection with the incident.

Sunny’s sister was to get married in Pimpri late on Sunday, for which the victims had been invited. Soon after the ceremony, a caste panchayat was organised at the location. When the victims were about to leave, the mob started assaulting them, they claimed.

Complainant Indrekar told Mirror, “When we started moving out of the hall, a group of 40 people from our community started beating Machale and Tamaichikar. When I went to intervene, they attacked me, too, and all three of us were beaten black and blue. We had not gone there to oppose anything, but people were still angry with us for taking a stand against ageold regressive practices of the caste panchayat, and feel we have defamed the community by speaking up about this on social media. They assaulted us and threatened us for creating awareness in our community.”

Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) student Vivek Tamaichikar, who is the admin of the WhatsApp group ‘Stop The V-Ritual’, said, “With the help of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), we have complained to the police against the caste panchayat in the past, for conducting regressive practices.” He added that often, if brides fail these archaic tests, they are harassed and even beaten up.

MANS is an organisation dedicated to fighting superstitions that was founded by the late rationalist, Dr Narendra Dabholkar.

Last year, on November 25, Siddhant Indrekar (21), a resident of Kanjarbhat Nagar in Yerwada, had lodged a complaint against the caste panchayat at the Vishrantwadi police station.

“Police are tardy in taking action in such cases despite ample proof against the caste panchayats, including demanding money for various rituals. But they often do not register such cases under the Social Boycott Act. How long must progressive members within such communities pay with their life and security before cases are lodged under the new law,” asked Nandini Jadhav of the MANS.

In 2015, former Pimpri-Chinchwad mayor and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Kavichand Bhat was arrested by the Aurangabad police for extorting money from a woman in lieu for withdrawing a social boycott call against her.

Mr. Bhat was an ‘elder’ of an illicit caste panchayat of the Kanjarbhat community and was notorious for his complicity in several social boycott cases.

Pune Mirror