In an appalling incident, a newly wed man in Maharashtra abandoned his wife within 48 hours of marriage after she allegedly failed the Caste Panchayat’s customary ‘virginity test’ on their wedding night in Nashik last month.

The Maharashtra Women’s Commission has asked for a report on the matter from Nashik police, as Caste panchayats or kangaroo courts of any kind are strictly illegal in the state of Maharashtra. But the matter seems to have been resolved internally, according to recent reports

b’Representational Image | S ource: PTI’

The 20-year old girl, Yogita Abhiyekar-Karale of Ahmednagar, is an aspiring policewoman, and belongs to the Kanajarbhat community, as does Arjun ,the groom from Nashik. The Kanjarbhat community is a tribal, formerly nomadic community, whose members strictly adhere to their traditions, and follow their own ‘Constitution’, Hindustan Times reported.

On their wedding night on May 22nd, Yogita was allegedly made to undergo a ‘virginity test’, a method of assessing the ‘purity’ of a woman by placing a white sheet on the marital bed, and then checking for blood after intercourse. (The idea is that a woman who has lost her virginity, will not bleed since her hymen is no longer ‘intact’)

b’Khap Panchayat, Representational Image | Source: PTI’

Members of the Caste Panchayat themselves stand outside the room to inspect the bleeding after intercourse. Apparently, the community highly values the virginity of women as a virtue.

When Yogita failed the so called ‘test’, the Village Panchayat ordered an annulment of the wedding, and the husband promptly left his wife. Her plea, that she she did not bleed possibly because of the rigorous physical training she underwent for the police academy, fell on deaf ears, and the marriage stood invalidated by the Panchayat. 

No complaints were filed, as the Yogita’s family was allegedly under duress from the conservative village community and caste panchayat. She has siblings who are yet unmarried, and Yogita fears that her engagement in seeking justice for herself, might turn into a problem for the rest of her family. The Kanjarbhats are a powerful community, 2.6 lakh strong, and are locally well connected in Maharashtra.

b’Tribal Women in Maharashtra, Representational Image | Source: Reuters’

Now, according to a report in TOI, Yogita has gone back to her husband. She said he ‘apologized’ to her about the ‘misunderstanding’, after a long meeting at her house in Ahmednagar district. No complaint has been filed yet, and it seems highly unlikely that it will be. 

“We tried to talk to the girl and her parents at length. We have been saying they are under tremendous social pressure from Kanjarabhat caste panchayat”, TOI reported advocate and activist Ranjana Gavande.

A member of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), an anti-caste panchayat activists’ group, Krishna Changude told the Mumbai Mirror: 

 “Advocate Ranjana Gavande and I went to the house and spoke to the girl and her parents. We tried to convince her father to file a police complaint, but he is afraid of the caste panchayat. Now, we are trying to meet the members of the panchayat and convince them to stop this feudal anti-constitutional act.”  

Deputy Superintendant DS Devare said that Yogita did not want any legal entanglement, and they could not take the case up suo moto, now that couple has resolved the issue themselves and no official complaints have been forwarded. 

Activists who got in touch with Yogita, reportedly told the Mirror, that the panchayat may have yet another ‘virginity test’ for her, in which she will be given a meter of cloth to tie around either her upper or lower body, and then be chased, naked, by the male members of the Panchayat, who would, in turn, throw hot balls of flour at her. Yogita has allegedly refused this proposal. 

The Kanjarbhat Community Panchayat have previously been in the news for atrocities against women, when they paraded a widow around naked in Maharashtra in February this year.