Last week, Vivek Tamaichikar, 29, and Aishwarya Bhat, 23, married each other in Pimpri, near Pune, Maharashtra. The ceremony was attended by policemen—not to provide protection to the handful of high-profile attendees, but because three members of a WhatsApp group Tamaichikar founded were allegedly assaulted in January.
Tamaichikar’s started the WhatsApp group, “Stop the ‘V’ Ritual”, last year, to take a stand against the tradition of virginity tests in the Kanjarbhat community, to which he and Bhat belong. According to reports, the Kanjarbhat caste panchayats had been using such tests—carried out through inspection of the marital bed—to extort large sums of money from newlyweds.
Tamaichikar grew up in Ambarnath in Thane, Mumbai and Bhat grew up in Pimpri, Pune. Both were family friends. They had decided to fight the tradition together, and finally tied the knot on May 12, using their wedding as an event to highlight their cause.
Tamaichikar is a recent graduate of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and will be moving to Patna for a government job. Bhat recently received her undergraduate law degree from the University of Pune. VICE spoke with Tamaichikar about his activism.
VICE: What prompted you to fight the virginity test?
Vivek Tamaichikar: When I was 10 years old, I attended my cousin’s marriage and I saw her getting beaten by others. That’s when I realised something is fishy. One of my uncles, Krishna Indrekar, who also shunned this ritual by going for a registered marriage in 1996, was boycotted by our community.
When I started the WhatsApp group, he was cynical, initially. But then he got in touch with Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, [an organisation that fights against superstition] who got in touch with us. They had been fighting against this test for five to six years.
Did you have to convince Aishwarya?
No, she too was against this ritual. We were engaged for three years. But she was a bit worried as her grandfather was the chairperson of the Kanjarbhat community till last year. He is a powerful man in the community. And he tried to cancel our marriage when I told him I was not going to permit the “virginity test”. He would tell me, “ ladki nahi dunga.” [I won’t give you the girl.]
How did you guys convince your parents?
Although Aishwarya’s parents understood what we were saying, they were worried what others will say. They didn’t want to take the risk. They told me “don’t start with our daughter.” There was pressure on them. But I was sure that I didn’t want to go through with this. My parents were also against [our rejection of the test]. They told me that the community will boycott them, that my brother and sister won’t get any rishtas [marriage proposals]. It took us six months to convince them.
How did the WhatsApp group come into being?
In August 2017 there were two important judgements by the Supreme Court: one was on the right to privacy and another was on triple talaq. In our community, a bride is subjected to virginity test which I believe is a violation of privacy. I wrote about that on my Facebook. And I received some positive response from youngsters. That was a ray of hope for me. I started the group in October 2017.
How many members did the group have to begin with?
Initially many youths shared the post on Facebook and Instagram. That was when I realised there are other like-minded people out there. Some 35 members joined the group in the first two days. Right now we have 52.
Were you expecting opposition?
I was. I called for the first face-to-face meeting of our group sometime in December. Only 11 members showed up. I wanted to understand why they were against the test, what they thought of it. We hold these meetings at different times and places to galvanise our youngsters.
We did this because we wanted other Kanjarbhat youth to know that it is possible to marry without taking the virginity test. We want them to know that we will help them.
Correction: Vivek Tamaichikar grew up in Ambarnath in Thane, Mumbai. Earlier version of the article mentioned he grew up in Pimpri in Pune.
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