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Virginity Test In India: Age-old Practice Still Prevalent

The abominable practice of virginity tests and the two-finger tests are carried out even today in India. While some communities practice it with impunity, in many cases, law enforcement agencies, medical practitioners routinely carry out the tests and even a few courts have institutionalised it through their orders, reports Pavitra Utgikar.

By Pavitra Utgikar
New Update

Virginity Test in India Virginity test | Representative image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

Virginity Test in India: “My cousin sister was beaten up on the first night of her wedding in front of me. They found that she did not bleed and asked her with whom she had sexual intercourse before marriage. They tortured and tormented her, which remained a childhood scar on me for a very long period,” says Vivek Tamaichikar, founder of the “Stop the V-Ritual” campaign. 

Vivek Tamaichikar, Founder of the “Stop the V-Ritual” campaign speaks to The Probe’s Pavitra Utgikar on the practice of V-Ritual widely prevalent in Kanjarbhat community.

Tamaichikar belongs to the Kanjarbhat community in India, where virginity tests are institutionalised and carried out on newlywed brides by a few elderly members. The newly married husband and wife are taken to a lodge by the community members, and the wife’s virginity is tested using a white bedsheet. If the woman bleeds after sexual intercourse with her husband, she is considered pure, and if she doesn’t, she will be declared impure, and the marriage will be annulled. When Tamaichikar and his wife decided to protest against the V-Ritual, they faced a social boycott from the caste panchayat of the Kanjarbhat community.

“My partner and I decided to protest against it and started the “Stop the V-Ritual” campaign. When we launched the campaign and called for a meeting, some of our community members came to take part, but then they got a call from the caste panchayat, and those who were part of this group were asked to apologise publicly,” rues Tamaichikar.

For years, Tamaichikar has been facing a social boycott after he started protesting against the V-Ritual campaign. “I don’t get invited to any functions of my community. There is a lot of pressure from the community’s caste panchayat to keep my wife and me away from public functions. When my grandmother passed away, the caste panchayat announced that those who would attend my grandmother’s funeral would be boycotted. Because of this, nobody attended my grandmother’s funeral. Finally, the Ministry of Home Affairs took note of this case and asked us if we were willing to get an FIR registered in the matter, and we did,” said Tamaichikar speaking to The Probe.

The Maharashtra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2016 was passed to protect people who face social boycotts. The Act also makes social boycotts a punishable offence. But, in the Kanjarbhat community, the practice is widely prevalent, and the law has not been able to catch up with the ones who impose social boycotts on those members who carry out the dehumanising V-Ritual.

“There are instances where when a couple has sex before marriage and they want to show that the girl is a virgin, the boy would slightly cut his finger using a blade and pour the blood on the bedsheet so that he can prove to his relatives that the girl is a virgin. Recently, in Kolhapur, two sisters got married, and the husband refused to accept one of the sisters because she didn’t bleed during the wedding night. In our community, they take the husband and wife to a lodge on the wedding night, then show them blue films and a relative couple would come and give them a demo on how to have sexual intercourse. Sometimes the husband is given viagra pills. This is part of the community ritual. Some superstitions are also connected to it. They say that if this V-Ritual is not done, then the wife will not conceive, and even if she conceives, she will not be able to feed milk to the newborn baby,” says Tamaichikar.

Such virginity tests and rituals are not just carried out in communities such as the Kanjarbhat community in India. Dr Indrajit Khandekar, a Professor in the Forensic Medicine Department at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (MGIMS), started a fight against the two-finger test after feeling outraged by the way private parts of rape survivors were being touched without their consent during medical tests.

“When I examined some medico-legal reports on rape cases, I realised that there are many issues that are not highlighted in the cases which are practically very relevant. I always used to find in these reports, including the police report, a place where they write whether the rape victim is habitual to sex or not. I never understood why this question is there in police papers and why the doctors are answering this question. They should be concerned with the trial of rape, but instead, they are more interested in the trial of the character of the rape victim. When I interacted with people, I was told that this is an accepted old practice, and therefore I sent a report to the government of India and the government of Maharashtra. As usual, there was no action. Then we got a PIL filed, and my report was submitted to the Bombay High Court, and the high court asked the Maharashtra government to implement my suggestions, which led to the development of new guidelines, manuals and data collection forms in medico-legal cases,” states Dr Khandekar.

Dr Khandekar, for years, has been fighting against the invasive two-finger test. Speaking to The Probe, he says that when he interviewed rape victims as part of his work, most victims from marginalised backgrounds were unaware of why the tests were being conducted.

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“I have interacted with many rape victims. When I asked some of them what they thought about the two-finger test, almost all of them told me that it is a very painful and traumatic experience when doctors insert fingers into their vaginas. These women from low-income families thought it was just a medical examination, and they were unaware of what the doctors were trying to ascertain through the two-finger test. They were not aware that the doctors were trying to find out if the victim was habitual to sexual intercourse,” adds Dr Khandekar.

While Dr Khandekar notes that the Maharashtra government formulated guidelines, they are hardly followed as the implementers, i.e. the law enforcement agencies and the doctors, need to be trained. What’s worse, in many cases, courts themselves in the past have ordered virginity tests on rape victims.

publive-image An excerpt from a court order dated 24 November, 2014 from Akola Family Court where a virginity test was ordered | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

“I have been training police officers in Maharashtra on these guidelines. But I later realised merely training is not enough. These guidelines should also be a part of the educational curriculum to increase awareness of the subject. I also found that when courts are fighting to abolish this practice, on the other hand, some courts themselves are ordering to conduct virginity tests on rape victims. When our PIL was in the Akola court, I found that the Akola court had ordered a virginity test in 2014. That means that even our judges need training in this matter,” asserts Dr Khandekar.

Early this February, the Delhi High Court made Virginity Test in India on women accused of crimes or in custody unconstitutional, stating that it violated her fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the constitution. Until now, the courts had banned virginity tests on sexual assault victims, but through the latest judgement, it was extended to women accused of crimes. But Manisha Gupte, Founder and Co-Convenor of Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (Masum), states that when law enforcement agencies use this test to solve rape cases, it once again re-victimises a victim.

In Bombay, there was a rape and murder of a nun, and a virginity test was conducted on the dead body. So, this is just complete voyeurism. In cases of rape, virginity tests are conducted to find out if the rape victim is habituated to sex. This also shows the mindset of these people who solve crimes. If a victim has had sexual intercourse with a man five times, the sixth time cannot be considered rape. They feel that the rape victim should not be habituated to sex. For them, virginity is innocence, and someone who is innocent could be raped, but a non-virgin cannot be raped. In some communities, virginity tests are done, and they want blood-stained bedsheets, and the whole community sits outside and asks the man who comes out if the girl is “khara ki khota” meaning if she is worthy or worthless,” states Gupte.

Sangeeta Rege, Director of the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), states that the intrusion on women’s bodies has been institutionalised by many government agencies, which has also given social sanction to patriarchal families and communities to carry out these tests without fear of the law.

“I don’t understand the rationale behind the two-finger test. Despite the Supreme Court judgement in 1995 and the criminal procedure code in India actually laying down procedures as to what must be the components of medical examination, why is the two-finger test done?” asks Rege.

Rege notes that while during Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP), doctors must mandatorily undergo training sessions and conduct the MTP under a superior, these trainings are not mandatory for medical practitioners who carry out the examination in rape cases.

“While all this is one issue, a study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in India found that many mothers were coming with their daughters for hymenal reconstruction. I have seen cases where the mothers have insisted that the procedure be done so that the daughter is understood as a virgin, and this mostly happens among the elite,” adds Rege.

Dr Amrinder Kaur Bajaj, an Obstetrics and Gynecology doctor based out of Gurgaon, says that more than law, awareness is required to do away with the practice of virginity tests. “Princess Diana had got her test done because she had to carry forward the royal family’s lineage. A family came to me just a day after the wedding night and brought the bride to me to know if she was a virgin or if she had an abortion or a delivery before. There’s a custom in Maharashtra where they won’t let the couple sleep together till the woman has her first period. These social ills can be eradicated only through education and awareness.”

Harish Sadani, Secretary and Chief Functionary of Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), says that India has been seeing a rise in gender-related violence against women because the conviction rate in these cases is always low. “The violence against women continues as the law enforcement agencies do not build a tight case against the offenders. The conviction rates are usually and always low in cases related to crimes against women. Even in communities like the Kanjarbhat community, they hold these illegal caste panchayat meetings to institutionalise such social evils. When there was a crack down in one place, they got together in a meeting in another city and held the meeting with great fanfare to show that even the law cannot intervene in matters related to their community. This must change,” notes Sadani.