ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Stigmatisation and Exclusion of Tribal ‘Kumari Matas’ in Yavatmal

The issue of Kumari Matas (tribal unwed mothers) in Yavatmal testifies to the sexual exploitation of tribal women by non-tribal men and subsequent stigmatisation and exclusion within village society and tribal community. The Government of Maharashtra, which has only lately acknowledged the issue and is unable to move beyond the paradigm of patriarchal morality, lags far behind Kerala in adopting a serious, sensitive and pragmatic approach to adopting preventive and rehabilitative measures for Kumari Matas.

The author would like to thank the officers at the Integrated Tribal Development Project office at Pandharkawada, and the Women and Child Development Department in Yavatmal for sharing data and making time for discussions, Anita Jambhulkar for her field insights, and the anonymous reviewer for their inputs in enhancing the analysis.

In Indian society, marriage is still the predominant institution within which sexual relationships and the offsprings of cohabitating adults can enjoy social legitimacy. As far as premarital sexual activity in India is concerned, men report it more than women, which not only reveals the gender dimension of reporting on sexual activity but also prevailing social norms of valuing and protecting the chastity of girls (Subaiya 2008). Due to the prevalence of such values, the morality of single mothers is often subject to suspicion and challenges, notwithstanding their vulnerability to ridicule, sexual abuse, exploitation, and exclusion (Nack 2002).

The case of Kumari Matas (unwed mothers) amongst the tribals of Yavatmal district of Maharashtra is one such example. Tribal girls are lured by non-tribal men with gifts and offerings and/or the promise of marriage. Thus, sexual relations are established through deceit and fraud. When tribal girls, following such encounters, give birth to children outside of legitimate or socially sanctioned relations, they are rendered immoral and disreputable; reflected in the use of the morally loaded term Kumari Mata in common parlance. The cultural assimilation of local tribes with the mainstream culture in this region has paved the way for the moral assessment of these victims as also the suppression of these cases from being reported.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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