Yes, virginity plays a very important role in India, especially for women. Interestingly, a panchayat in Nashik, Maharashtra, allowed a young man to end his marriage because his wife failed the virginity test. No, not agni pariksha (test of fire) but a white sheet test. Awhite sheet test, Seriously!? I just could not believe such practices still exist in our society.

Virginity still seems to be one of the must-have qualities in a woman when it comes to marriage. While not being so much of a pre-requisite for a man, many in-laws and would-be husbands expect the girl to be a virgin. This practice is very disgusting and sexist. Virginity is synonymous with ‘purity’ in our Indian culture and Sita having to prove her ‘purity’ not just once but twice is a testimony to the same.

While the world talks about feminism and breaking stereotypes around women, there still exist communities in India which believe in the ‘virginity test’. The test is to check if the hymen is intact, which is actually a traumatizing experience for women. It is shocking that just a layer of tissue decides the fate of women in these communities.

Coming back to the incident of Nashik, post the wedding rituals, the groom slept with the bride on the plain white sheet and the entire Panchayat waited for the verdict outside. This bed sheet was given for the virginity test that only the woman had to pass. The man didn’t have to prove anything. The girl ‘passes’ if she bleeds and the bed sheet is stained red, and the girl fails miserably if she doesn’t bleed.

The groom then declared that his newly-wedded wife was not a virgin because she didn’t bleed at all. Well, the dogmatists don’t understand that the girl could be a virgin too and the lack of blood or rupture of hymen could be due to something else. It is just not possible to access whether a girl is a virgin or not by just examining that her hymen is intact.

Madhya Pradesh: Women protest alleged virginity tests before a mass marriage in the state. Photo by Mail Today/India Today Group/Getty Images.

Based on the man’s verdict, the caste panchayat annulled the marriage. I wonder what kind of people are involved in this so-called panchayat that they wait outside the room while the newly-wedded couple consummate their marriage inside.

Well, is there a need to justify your virginity to appear ‘pure’ and ‘pious’? What kind of rule is this? Such panchayats should be banned in India. The fact that there is a virginity test for women is at another level of gross injustice and inequality.

From time immemorial, a woman’s virginity has been her prized possession. Throughout history, we have read about cultures across the world placing a high value on a woman’s virginity. But times are changing and for an increasing number of young men and women, sex is no longer a taboo that it earlier used to be. And much to our older generation’s dismay, pre-marital sex is a definite reality of our times.

Is virginity a big deal? I don’t think it is. Some people consider girls who have lost their virginity before marriage as ‘immoral’, ‘sluts’ and what not. They even marry off their girls at an early age in the fear that if they remain unmarried, they might lose their virginity. But in the process, they forget about their daughters’ education and career. What is more important, losing virginity or losing education and means of living an independent life?

Is India so involved with marriage, virginity and social stigma that we forget each person has feelings, desires, and ambitions and may fall in love before marriage?

The only way we can alter this thought process is by

  • educating more women so they can earn on their own
  • creating awareness about sex
  • passing a strict law that prevents such virginity tests
  • punishing families who disobey the law

People need to understand that an intact hymen is not a sure sign of virginity. A woman’s hymen can be ruptured by non-sexual activities like intense sports, dancing, even the insertion of a tampon or any medical instrument to absorb menstrual blood could break the hymen and it is not a big deal. It is not necessary for a virgin to bleed the first time she has sex.

Remember, virginity and chastity are not the only measures to base a happy marriage on, honesty and trust are far more important traits that both partners should possess.

Ladies! Don’t think that being ‘pure’ or ‘virgin’ will earn you equal stature in this society. Even after fulfilling her duties as an ideal Indian woman, Draupadi was used as pawn and lost to the Kauravas in the Mahabharata.

And every day, hundreds of ‘pure’ women in India are tortured, killed, starved, or humiliated for dowry.

It is not about the purity of women but the mindset of people and communities that needs to be pure!

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