Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Despite Resistance, Fear of Social Boycott Is Keeping ‘Virginity Tests’ Alive

By Reshmi Chakraborty on 20/02/2018

“Such customs are needed to keep women within a certain boundary.”


Kanjarbhat lore says the custom was established centuries ago during the nomadic days to protect girls from prying eyes. Representative image credit: Reuters

For the past few months, the Kanjarbhat community in Maharashtra has been engaged in a battle that pits tradition against education and fundamental rights against dogged customs.

The Kanjarbhats, a denotified tribe from Maharashtra, practice a custom called ‘gun jiti’. As per the custom, a bride’s virginity is tested by looking for blood stains on a white sheet after the wedding night. The sheet is checked by the family and the groom has to declare before the elders whether the bride is a virgin.

Kanjarbhat lore says the custom was established centuries ago during the nomadic days to protect girls from prying eyes. Its application in 2018, with much of the community living in urban areas – like Pimpri-Chinchwad in Pune, Ambernath near Mumbai and Kolhapur – remains contentious.

An outdated tradition?

Community elders proudly claim the custom has existed for 400 years. Advocate Moorchand Bhat, the former chairperson of the All India Kanjarbhat Association and part of the Jati Panchayat, insists it is no different from any traditional wedding night. He calls it a “Lakshmana Rekha (boundary)” for the community’s girls.

But a group of young Kanjarbhats have challenged what they say is a regressive custom and an affront to privacy. Vivek Tamaichikar, studying regulatory governance at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, sees the virginity tests as “a way to control sexual behaviour of the women in the community.”

Tamaichikar is engaged and when he and his fiancé decided they did not wish to undergo this custom, they approached family elders, but in vain. He responded by setting up ‘Stop the V Ritual’, a WhatsApp group of about 60 like-minded people. The Jat Panchayat, however, is unhappy at his stand and his methods of raising awareness through the media.

Why keep the custom alive?

Many older Kanjarbhat women support the custom, also mentioned in a book of laws published by the Jat Panchayat groups in 2000, which details rules about traditional customs.

“This pratha (custom) has been going on for many years and I don’t know why it is in newspapers now. What do outsiders know about our customs? We have all gone through it and it is a custom we are proud of,” says an elderly woman from Bhatnagar in Pimpri. Her family doesn’t want her name published. “Hume is pratha se koi taqleef hi nahi hai (We have no problem with this custom),” adds the woman’s daughter-in-law.

Shakuntala Bhat. Credit: Reshmi Chakraborty

Tamaichikar attributes the panchayat stronghold and people’s belief in customs like these to ghettoisation. “People tend to stay together in one area and cultural ties are tight. Even if some wish to go against it, their family is pressurised by the panchayat and there is a fear of social boycott, which means they would not be spoken to, invited to social functions, given advise on matters of dispute, etc. That’s a strong instrument the panchayat has in their hand.”

Shakuntala Bhat heads the Maharashtra chapter of the All India Kanjarbhat Women’s Association. As a woman, she admits that the custom is not right. But she is quick to counter that as a social custom it is needed. “The community has come a long way from being part of criminal tribes during the British rule and we have lawyers, doctors and government officers but many women are still not educated enough to take the right decisions. Such customs are needed to keep them within a certain boundary.”

No single story

The Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti has been working to end the custom for years and Milind Deshmukh, its chief secretary, says the lack of ‘protesting voices’ is due to the fear of boycott. “It is a baseless one since Maharashtra is the only state to have passed the Prohibition of People from Social Boycott Act 2016. People need to be educated about the law.”

Krishna Indrekar, director with the State Charity Commission, was ostracised when he ignored the custom and had a court marriage in 1996. “The panchayat takes money to approve things and have kept people under control through boycott threats and superstitions, which is why there have been no complaints filed with the police over the years,” he alleges.

Even in cases where the victim is ready to file a complaint, families intervene. In June 2016, a young woman in Nashik was deserted by her husband after she did not bleed. While the woman was ready to file a complaint, she was convinced by her family not to.

Bhat insists that there are no boycotts or beatings and there is no penalty enforced even if a girl “fails the test”. “We just counsel the couple and advise them to lead a happy life instead.” He adds that the panchayats do not demand money either. “During the wedding, the panchayat members are given Rs 300 each as dakshina, that’s it.”

Some younger women from the community tell a different story. Sonal*, 24, an engineering student in Pune, has two older sisters who are married and have undergone the custom at their parents’ insistence. “While the Jati Panchayat doesn’t wait outside the room, the virginity test does happen and there is social pressure to go through it. The women remove the bride’s jewellery and any sharp objects from the room. The boy is sent inside with a white sheet. If by any chance the bride doesn’t bleed, there is a meeting fixed with the community elders and a penalty paid to approve the wedding.”

Priyanka Tamaichikar. Credit: Reshmi Chakraborty

Priyanka Tamaichikar, 26, works in a Pune firm and is part of the WhatsApp group. She is also one of the very few women from the community to openly speak about the issue. “It’s a character test. If you ask girls from our community how their wedding was, very few would say they enjoyed it as everyone is under pressure and trauma about the result.”

According to Priyanka, lack of sex education and several underage marriages mean very few girls and even older women are aware that a hymen can rupture even due to natural causes. “It’s an extremely traumatic public process for every girl.”

Is a change underway?

College education, exposure and social media have brought about a change in some young Kanjarbhat girls, many of whom don’t want the virginity test when they marry. But few are ready to openly bell the cat.

Shakuntala disagrees with the public method adopted by Tamaichikar’s WhatsApp group but admits that there are murmurs for change. “Twenty percent of women in the community, especially young women, don’t want the virginity test to continue. Ek dabi huyi awaz zaroor hai samaj me iske khilaf,” she insists.

A panchayat gathering called to discuss the virginity test issue. Courtesy: Vivek Tamaichikar

When asked why protesting voices haven’t been heard, she points to their patriarchal culture. “Ours is a male-centric society and for centuries, men have been making the rules. Most women in our community feel rules need to be followed and can’t be crossed.”

Sensing the scenario perhaps, Moorchand Bhat says in a recent meeting of Kanjarbhat panchayats in Kolhapur a decision was taken to form an enquiry committee to look into the “right to privacy that the young people are demanding and bring some secrecy into the custom.”

A change, though painfully slow and limited, certainly seems to be in the offing, though for the young people waiting for it, it may not be soon enough.

* Name changed

Reshmi Chakraborty is a freelance writer who writes on gender, social change and ageing.

 Source: thewire


Sunday, February 18, 2018

‘Average Dalit Woman Dies 14.6 Years Younger Than Women From Higher Castes’

By Amanat Khullar on 1 Comment

A new UN study also notes that the intersection of gender with other forms of discrimination – caste, race/ethnicity, religion etc – is what further marginalises women and girls from poor and deprived sections of the society.

Representative image. Credit: Thessaly La Force/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

New Delhi: Not only are women poorer, more hungry and more discriminated against than men in India, but the average Dalit woman in the country also dies 14.6 years younger than those from higher castes, a new report released by the UN on Wednesday night underlined.

Titled ‘Turning promises into action: gender equality in the 2030 Agenda,’ the study by UN Women notes that the increase in exposure to mortality of lower-caste women stems from poor sanitation as well as an inadequate supply of water and healthcare.

“Those left furthest behind in society are often women and girls who experience multiple forms of disadvantage based on gender and other inequalities,” the report states. This, according to the study, can result in “clustered deprivations where women and girls may be simultaneously disadvantaged in their access to quality education, decent work, health and well-being”.

At the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – adopted two years ago – is a commitment to “leave no one behind,” to prioritise addressing the needs of the most disadvantaged sections of people. The agenda lays out a number of global benchmarks, including eliminating extreme poverty and hunger and getting all children into school. The new report highlights how women are affected by each of them and examines what policies are needed to achieve the stated goals.

When viewed through a gender lens, the goal is to ensure that all women and girls, irrespective of their location, age, class, race, ethnicity etc, enjoy equal rights and opportunities. This, however, is not the case and more often than not these disadvantages are visible in official statistics.

According to the report, the intersection of gender with other forms of discrimination – caste, race/ethnicity, religion etc – is what further marginalises women and girls from poor and deprived sections of the society, and shows how progress for women is a pre-requisite if progress for all is to be achieved.

In Karnatka’s Koppal district, for example, a study has found that while poor women are the most deprived of all in accessing health services, the situation of non-poor women too was similar to that of poor men. But the latter even while facing economic discrimination were not bearing the brunt of gender deprivation.

Wealth and location are also factors that produce a compounding effect, leading to large inequalities. Poverty often leads to poor education, which further drives child marriage.
Deprivations in one area are thus associated with deprivations in others.

According to the report, In India, a woman aged 20-24 from a poor, rural household is over five times as likely as one from a rich urban household to marry before the age of 18. There is also an over 20 times likelihood of the former as compared to the latter to have never attended school, 1.3 times not having access to money of her own and 2.3 times not having a say in spending.

In a situation where she is landless and belongs to scheduled caste, the likelihood of poverty increases, and if she chooses to work, her lack of education and low status in the social hierarchy is likely to result in exploitative working conditions.

When it comes to unpaid care and domestic work – regardless of region, income level or cultural characteristics – the ratio of women to men is ten times in India.

According to Livemint, the report also shows how women who live in poor households spend as much as 24% of their work time collecting firewood and water, and foraging for edible and non-edible items to be used as food and housing materials, while women in non-poor households allocate about half that time to such tasks.

The report adds that the strategies to achieve the goal of ‘leave no one behind’ – including those related to measurement – must be devised in ways that do not aggravate further social fragmentation, stigmatisation and/or other forms of harm or abuse of vulnerable groups.

Leaving no one behind, according to the UN Women, means “addressing the needs of the most marginalized: those who are disadvantaged socially, politically, environmentally and/ or economically.”

Source: thewire

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Global Sanitation Crisis Is A Huge Problem. The WASH Initiative Can Solve It

by John Hawthorne | Nov 27, 2017 | clean water, Water facts


As global crisis that affects over two billion people, water sanitation has turned into the first and primary concern of many of the world’s leading organizations. In fact, the CDC considers water sanitation an essential problem that needs to be solved by the end of this century.

Today, there are about 2.4 billion people without the right kind of sanitation in their regional infrastructure. Clean water, basic toilets, black water disposal, and many things other countries take for granted for survival simply aren’t available in many countries.

Then add the 663 million, and counting, that simply have no access to any water source.
When you stand back and look at the entire problem you get a feel for how massive it is. Something needs to be done in order to solve this problem.

Here’s what you need to know.

The Facts Behind The Crisis

Let’s look at some statistics to better understand this problem.

  • According to WHO (the World Health Organization) and UNICEF, the region with the highest amount of poor water sanitation is Sub-Saharan Africa, followed closely by Southern and Eastern Asia.
  • Girls are most likely to suffer not only the debilitating ravages of diseases, but the societal consequences of having poor sanitation in their rural settings.  Compared to their male counterparts, one in five girls do not attend school, primarily because they are most likely responsible for collecting water for their family.  In Sub Saharan Africa, 72% of the water collected is done by women.Plus, the arcane and hazardous toilet and latrine installations in schools often prevent girls from further advancing their education, in particular during menstruation.
  • Over eight hundred thousand children under the age of 5 die from diarrhea and related causes each year. In 2012, a study showed that 2,200 children die every single day as a result of diarrheal diseases.
  • Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDS for short) are a direct result of water and hygiene related issues. Bacteria, parasites and viruses run amok in rural regions. Mosquitos, carrying Zika, malaria, and other diseases swarm around sitting water.Guinea Worm Disease (an extremely painful parasitical infection), buruli ulcer, schistosomiasis and hundreds more diseases affect the poor countries at an alarming rate. Less water and sanitation also means less sewage flow, leading to stagnant water and pools, particularly in tropical and subtropical climates. These pools then become breeding grounds for viruses and parasites foreign to that area.
  • Basic sanitation and clean affordable water can end up saving over 17 thousand people a week.
  • By the year 2025, due to overpopulation, 2/3 of the world will face water shortages. To make matters even worse, the other 1/3 will have to deal will a growing strain on their sanitation installations. Drinkable water will become a scarce commodity.
  • Women and girls are more likely to experience violent sexual assaults while either getting water or venturing outside to use the communal defecation pit.
  • Only 3% of the world’s water is drinkable, despite the fact that 75% of the planet is covered by it. Out of that tiny percent, only 1% is actually accessible to humans. The majority of the world’s safe drinkable water tucked away in remote regions.
Solutions To The Global Sanitation Problem

Global water sanitation is a staggering and serious problem that has become a pivotal concern for many world organizations, and it’s not going away anytime soon. It’s estimated that it will take generations to actually solve the problem. Nonetheless, there are numerous actions and strategies being taken in order to mitigate its advance.

Some governments are taking highly specific approaches that work within their unique circumstances.

As says Tim Brewer notes:

Ethiopia has made a concerted effort to reduce open defecation rates over the past five years,” Wateraid’s policy analyst on monitoring and accountability. “The government came up with a plan of action to get everyone in the country to stop practicing open defecation, and made sure that donors contributing to the sanitation sector also followed the same plan. This hasn’t been the case in Eritrea, where there has been conflict.

Unfortunately, in many cases, one of the most endemic problems is the lack of governmental and regional acknowledgment of the problem. Local governments often turn a blind eye to the dilemma (in many countries, 90% of the investment for any sort of solution comes from the private sector and charity). Unfortunately, there are inherent problems built into the financial and political pillars of most rural countries that fail to prioritize water sanitation in national budgets.

Most governments fail on multiple aspects of the crisis:

  • Water tariffs from formal providers are set so low that they do not cover the operational cost, let alone maintenance and expansion.
  • Long term investment in the sector is non-existent in many regions.
  • There is a chronic lack of human skill and know-how affecting the sector.

In other words, the heavy lifting in most parts is being conducted by private organizations and charities, which is important but not the long term solution. It’s estimated that in order to have a large scale impact on the problem, a great deal of financial aid should be directed to a systemic global reeducation campaign. Knowledge is a key part of solving this crisis.

Another key aspect most organizations and individuals agree on is that the water crisis is in itself an opportunity. It should be viewed not as an insurmountable dilemma but as a chance to help rural and poor communities to grow. Financial investment, manmade infrastructures, and pioneering innovations are critical to tackling the problem.

The United Nations has made it their goal to reach a ambitious and unambiguous target by the year 2030: Every man, woman and child, should have access to a safe water supply and able to go to the toilet in a clean space.

Their main concern is that by the year 2030, there will be an additional 1.5 billion people in the world, and over 60% will be in developing and rural countries. In order to reach their lofty goal, the United Nations and affiliated organizations will have to create a yearly $47 billion financial package.

The UN predicts that in order to actually meet their deadline, the next 5 years will be pivotal. They will have to generate national and international leadership, shining a light on the problem and building the necessary alliances between the private and public sector. It is their belief that the solution lies not only in developing a practical financial mechanism, but also in bridging the educational gap that most politicians seem to have.

What Is WASH?

Millions of children in the developing world go to schools which have no drinking water or clean latrines – basic things that many of us take for granted. Every child has the right to be in a school that offers safe water, healthy sanitation and hygiene education. – Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the launch of the WASH program.

WASH is a collective term used for the three core issues at stake in many rural communities worldwide: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. These three fundamental issues have to be improved in order to conquer the global sanitation crisis.

With UNICEF’s leadership, and in many cases example, many organizations are meeting head on the colossal problem affecting the poor. The WASH initiative values the idea of dedicated target strikes on different areas while promoting sustainable goals for a region.
How does WASH play out specifically?


The first leg of UNICEF’s initiative deals with providing access to protected wells and piping – of gifting communities with safe underground water sources.


It is fundamental to have facilities that separate human waste from human contact. In many cases, communal latrines or open defecation is the norm, with ineffective separation of fecal matters and lack of a waste disposal units contaminating the ecosystem and general health of the village.


In many parts of the world, there is little thought given to common hygiene practices. A lack of soap, safe water or adequate washing facilities cause diseases to spread quickly. UNICEF’s wants to help change this mindset in many communities, with educational awareness being key to fighting pandemics.

UNICEF’s Results:

So far, the results from WASH have been positive:
  • More than 7.6 million people have received improved access to drinking water.
  • 3.1 million have benefited from improved agricultural water management.
  • Hundreds of sanitation stations have been implemented in rural countries.
  • Thanks to the USAID’s assistance, WASH has managed to collect over 499 million dollars for their endeavors.


Though the global sanitation crisis isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, positive steps are being taken to address it. As more communities are educated on the importance of proper sanitation, we should expect to see continued improvements. Additionally, as infrastructure is built in these communities, some of the long term problems should slowly disappear.

Manoj Bhargava said:

People with water-borne diseases occupy more than 50% of hospital beds across the world. Does the answer lie in building more hospitals? Really, what is needed is to give them clean water.

We wholeheartedly agree.

Source: businessconnectworld

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Saturday, February 03, 2018

Researchers shocked by huge find of stone tools in India than can change our knowledge of human migration

February 3, 2018 Steve Morrison 4 Min Read

The geographic location of India and its rich Middle Palaeolithic record are ideally suited to addressing these issues, but progress has been limited by the paucity of excavated sites and hominin fossils as well as by geochronological constraints.


About 300,000 years prior today, the ancestors of present-day humans started modifying the way they used to hunt with the use of small and sharp tools that were created by the use of flakes of stones with a technique known as Levallois. The latest study into the stone tools extracted from a particular site located in India could change the basics of what we know about the early human migration and evolution.

The artifacts located by the researchers could be from a period that is way older than earlier estimated by them. The tools reflect a sophisticated style of construction. The tools were found at the southeastern periphery of India at a site named Attirampakkam which is close to the capital city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. During the excavation, the researchers acquired about 7000 artifacts, most of which were stone tools that were a perfect example of the transition from old ones to the sophisticated version during the ancient era.

This discovery is shocking as the data analysis suggested that the transition from basic to sophisticated version occurred about 200,000 years before the earlier expectation. The style of creating tools is very important to determine the migration and evolution of early humans. The tools are a physical representation of the human intellect at the early evolution stage. It helps the researchers analyze the cognitive ability housed in the brains of a toolmaker.

These tools discovered in India are from Acheulean technology which can be recognized almost instantly from the signature teardrop shape. The handaxe was a particularly important modification during this time as compared to the Oldowan technology. All the signs studied by researchers indicate that the Acheulean technology is a practice from Africa. The first humans who left Africa carried the Acheulean tools with them which happened around 1.9 million years prior today.

The discovery of Acheulean tools in India could be a strong game changer for the researchers as this suggests the migration took way before the earlier estimation. However, it could also suggest that the local early human population in this region developed these tools themselves which could mean that technological development in Asian parts occurred way before African continent.

The following is an abstract from the paper, published in the journal Nature.

Luminescence dating at the stratified prehistoric site of Attirampakkam, India, has shown that processes signifying the end of the Acheulian culture and the emergence of a Middle Palaeolithic culture occurred at 385 ± 64 thousand years ago (ka), much earlier than conventionally presumed for South Asia1. The Middle Palaeolithic continued at Attirampakkam until 172 ± 41 ka. Chronologies of Middle Palaeolithic technologies in regions distant from Africa and Europe are crucial for testing theories about the origins and early evolution of these cultures, and for understanding their association with modern humans or archaic hominins, their links with preceding Acheulian cultures and the spread of Levallois lithic technologies.

The geographic location of India and its rich Middle Palaeolithic record are ideally suited to addressing these issues, but progress has been limited by the paucity of excavated sites and hominin fossils as well as by geochronological constraints. At Attirampakkam, the gradual disuse of bifaces, the predominance of small tools, the appearance of distinctive and diverse Levallois flake and point strategies, and the blade component all highlight a notable shift away from the preceding Acheulian large-flake technologies.

These findings document a process of substantial behavioural change that occurred in India at 385 ± 64 ka and establish its contemporaneity with similar processes recorded in Africa and Europe. This suggests complex interactions between local developments and ongoing global transformations. Together, these observations call for a re-evaluation of models that restrict the origins of Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture to the incidence of modern human dispersals after approximately 125 ka.

Steve Morrison

Steve Morrison is a budding journalist who intends to build a bright career in the media industry. He is a fitness enthusiast who loves to cover the latest news on health, fitness, and lifestyle.

Source: sciexaminer

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Thursday, February 01, 2018

శ్రీ కౌముది ఫిబ్రవరి 2018