In a not-so-shocking incident, a 24-year-old newly married woman in Rajasthan, who is also a rape victim, was assaulted and tortured by her husband and in-laws. Why? She failed a virginity test that was forcefully conducted on her. As a result, the Khap Panchayat of the district also imposed a penalty of Rs 10 lakh on the woman’s family.
The woman was forced to undergo a purification ritual or Kukadi Pratha practiced in her community, a day after the marriage. Before her marriage, the woman was allegedly raped by her neighbor. She had filed a complaint regarding the same in the police station and also informed the same to her in-laws. Following this, she was brutally beaten by her husband and mother-in-law.
This incident has once again reminded us of the evil social construct which is deeply rooted in our country. After years of fighting gender inequality, the patriarchial system, and stereotypes, such incidents are still common in our country.
Out of the countless injustices meted out to Indian women, the torture that a woman is put through for losing her virginity before marriage remains to be one of the gravest injustices there is.
After marriage, women, especially those belonging to remote areas of India and forced to take various kinds of virginity tests, the most common being the Kukadi ki Rasam. This is a test where a white bedsheet is spread out for a newlywed couple during their first night. If a blood stain appears on the bedsheet the following morning, it acts as proof for all that the bride is a virgin. If she doesn’t bleed, she is believed to have lost her virginity before the marriage.
A woman who loses her virginity before marriage is believed to be immoral and impure. She is called derogatory slurs like characterless, slut, whore, available, uncultured, spoiled, etc. A virgin woman on the other hand is seen as pure and pious.
We as a society fail to understand that virginity, more than being a biological concept is a product formed by the people of the society years back. It’s a social construct. In India, a woman is believed to lose virginity when her hymen breaks during sexual intercourse. This is where the whole fuss about her virginity starts.
A hymen is just a thin, fleshy and elastic piece of tissue at the opening of the vagina. The hymen of every woman differs in size. While some women might have a tight hymen, some have loose. When a woman has vaginal sex, her hymen is stretched open which sometimes may cause pain and bleeding. This however might not happen to every woman. Many women who have sex for the first time don’t even feel anything at all.
Besides, it’s not just by sex that a hymen results in tearing. Other activities like running, riding a bike, doing some kind of sports, or even inserting objects like a tampon or sex toys into the vagina can also lead to the breaking of the hymen.
This said, breaking or not breaking of the hymen in most cases might not even be related to one’s sexual activity and definitely cannot prove one’s virginity. This automatically also proves that all kinds of virginity tests, be it the two-finger test or stained bed-sheet test, conducted in India by the panchayats as well as the court of law are baseless, illogical and unscientific.
Keeping this in mind, India’s National Medical Commission (NMC) has now decided to teach medical students in India how virginity tests are unscientific, inappropriate and discriminatory. They will also be taught how to apprise the court if it orders such a test to be conducted by the doctors.
Legally speaking, the Supreme Court has held the right to privacy for every Indian citizen as a fundamental right. Virginity tests are a violation of the right to privacy and are thus illegal by law. Further, every citizen also has the right to enjoy one’s own body the way one wants. This makes virginity a null and void concept in the eyes of law. Our Indian Constitution does not identify the concept of virginity.
Regardless of all logical justifications, it’s sad to hear of so many women undergoing torture and public humiliation every other day. Although such incidents are common in the rural areas of our country, the stigma and despise from the society that women have to live with, for losing their virginity before marriage is traumatic.
While a woman who has had sex before marriage is tagged as characterless, not a finger is raised on men who lose their virginity before the marriage. We call India progressive and its society modern, then why is it that women even today are denied equal status, rights and bodily autonomy in this modern society?
Further, the choice to have or not to have sex before marriage is extremely personal and must not concern society. Again, virginity is a social construct created by people and thus it is only the people of the society who can deconstruct it. It’s time we start to do that now.