On January 21st, 2018, three young men protesting in an anti-patriarchy campaign were beaten by a group of 40 people in the city of Pimpri Chinchwad, India. The men were protesting the practice of the “virginity test” on young brides, a test that determines whether the woman is suitable for a life of marriage, or whether they are “broken.” The test has become a key component of the tribal wedding ceremony in India’s western state of Maharashtra. Independent reports that many young people have begun to protest, what they refer to as, the “very crude” and “traumatizing” tradition that is carried out as a means of ensuring that women do not go “out of control.”
Priyanka Tamaichikar, an activist of the “Stop the V-Ritual” campaign, commented that “There is not a single marriage that happens without the virginity test,” when interviewed by Al Jazeera. Vivek Tamaichikar, a member of the nomadic Kanjarbhat tribe, spoke to Reuters about his childhood memories of the virginity test recounting how he celebrated his cousin’s marriage one night and saw her beaten the next morning. Kavita Krishnan, the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, revealed to Al Jazeera that “the call for reform within the community is powerful.” Activist Hamid Dabholkar urges that the virginity test goes against the human rights promised to every Indian citizen by the Constitution,” Al Jazeera reports.
Virginity tests are a common practice across India. Imposed by local caste councils, the test involves providing the newlywed couple with a white sheet on their wedding night, that must be used during intercourse, whilst the local council leaders wait outside the bedroom door. For the women to be deemed a virgin, the groom must confirm three times that his wife bleeds in front of the group of elders waiting, patiently, outside of the couple’s room. If the husband of a woman does not announce her virginity, she may be punished in the form of beatings and monetary penalties. The worst possible outcome of the virginity test is for the bride to be pronounced “broken,” which is followed by a public inquiry to determine who she lost her virginity to. The “Stop the V-Ritual” campaign was born out of a WhatsApp group created in December 2017 by a group of youth from the Kanjarbhat community, Maharashtra, and aims to denounce and delegitimize the practice.
The unelected caste councils hold an unimaginable majority of power over the future of a woman’s life as a wife. Unlike women, men are not isolated and shamed if they previously engaged in sexual activities prior to the consummation of their marriage. Additionally, a Delhi-based gynecologist, Dr. Sonia Naik, confirmed to the BBC that there are often many reasons for why a woman may not bleed when she engages in sexual intercourse for the first time, therefore delegitimizing the concept of the virginity test as a method of testing whether a woman is a virgin. The practice of the virginity test is not isolated within India, across Indonesia the virginity test is adopted by local councils, and even the police, where a virginity test is a compulsory practice for newly appointed female officers.
Village councils, comprised of an all-male and unelected body, must be addressed to ensure that the virginity test practice is stopped. The power of the village council does not stop at the test. News 24 reports that “honour killings” have been ordered by councils across India for couples who do not follow tradition when marrying. Village councils are challenging Indian laws and local police enforcement. In order to eradicate the practice, the government must implement laws and protect their citizens from the extrajudicial mechanisms which the local councils have become. The patriarchal practice must be eradicated from the inside out, beginning with police and government-run initiatives on the local level of the identified communities where virginity tests are regularly practiced. Leaders of village councils that encourage the practice must face judicial charges and corresponding punishments. Ceasing the ‘cultural practice’ and reducing the power held by the local village councils are the first actions that must be taken to give women their rights as autonomous beings.
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