Historically, virginity tests have been performed on women to regulate their sexual activity and for men to assume control over their sexual behaviour. These are often performed without the woman’s consent. As women’s bodies become objects of male domination, these tests have been used to justify violence enacted towards them. They are still practised in a number of countries, despite being identified as a form of sexual abuse.
In some cultures, virginity tests are carried out to gather proof of a bride’s virginity. For instance, take the Kanjarbhat community.
According to their tradition, the panchayat sits outside a newly-married couple’s house or even bedroom before they consummate.
The act is performed on a white bedsheet, acting as proof of the bride’s virginity the next morning. If the sheet contains a blood stain, the bride passes the test. If it doesn’t, she is accused of salacious behaviour followed by a number of social problems.
A virginity test relies on the false assumption that the presence of the hymen determines if a woman is a virgin, but that is not so. It is a sexist, harmful practice which preserves the notion that it is unacceptable for women to have sexual relations outside of marriage, but not for men.
Krishna and Aruna Indrekar, a married couple from the Kanjarbhat community decided to shun this custom. They stood against this humiliating practice and have faced ten years of ostracism by the elders.
According to Pune Mirror, they got married in 1996 by skipping the customary ceremony and getting a court marriage instead. They also refused to follow the virginity test. The couple was socially boycotted by the elders after they refused to pay the penalty. Their fight has now found a new platform. Krishna and Aruna have joined hands with the youth from the community to oppose unjust practices of their caste panchayat.
A few years ago, some 40 members had formed a WhatsApp group called ‘Stop the VRitual’, spreading awareness about these practices. The youth plan to hold workshops in their community to ‘introduce, discuss and plan.’
“We are creating awareness since the caste panchayat issued a social boycott in 2006. I had tried hard to convince them to stop the virginity test, agnipariksha and shudhikaran. People from the Kanjarbhat community have been working in progressive fields like medicine, politics and education and still, they refuse to change their mentality,” Krishna told the Pune Mirror.
Vivek Tamaichekar, a Masters student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, was the one who formed the WhatsApp group. He told The Indian Express that he and his fiance are against this practice, but felt that just opposing it won’t be enough. So, they held a meeting of all the members of the group in Akurdi on December 3 to plan an awareness campaign.
To their shock, many women have stood in support of the virginity tests. Those who have opposed it, have received no support from the police. Some members of the panchayat have even claimed that no such tests have been performed on couples.
However, the WhatsApp group members hope that they will gradually be able to spread more awareness and help unwilling couples join the fight so that they can together stop such unethical practices in the community.