Why must your wife be a virgin?

The panchayat advised Yogita's husband to drop her back to her father as if she was damaged goods.

 |  6-minute read |   02-06-2016
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Well hallelujah! The unvirgin bride Yogita has returned home. And by the looks of the photo in the Mumbai Mirror, the husband is most pleased to have her back and they'll have a very long and happy married life.

The story is that Yogita Abhiyekar-Karale was abandoned by her husband Arjun ten days ago at the behest of a panchayat after she failed the "virginity test". She was then placed under house arrest by her father.

According to the Mumbai Mirror on June 1, 2016, "On May 22, the girl, who is preparing to get into the police force, married a 25-year-old man from Nashik. This is his second marriage and both belong to the Kanajarbhat community in Ahmednagar... Placing a high value on virginity in women, members of the caste panchayat wait outside after the wedding, while the couple has sex on a plain white cloth. This is supposedly a 'test' to prove that the woman is a virgin. In the girl's case, her husband said that she had not bled after sex and rejected her as his wife."

Also read: Why is virginity a reason to humiliate a woman after rape?

The panchayat advised him to drop her back to her father as if she was damaged goods. The man did not have to prove anything. This was his second marriage.

yogita_060216041951.jpg Yogita Abhiyekar-Karale took on an entire village and a rigid panchayat, but stood her ground (credit: Mumbai Mirror). 

In a country that produced the Kamasutra, virginity in 2016 is still a pertinent issue for men. The fact that there is a virginity test for women is at another level of gross injustice, inequality and bigotry towards women.

A panchayat that waits outside while the man proves to it that his bride was a virgin and that it was he who had taken her virginity away, in order to get the panchayat's approval, reeks of inhumanity and gender discrimination.

Also read: Why India is obsessed with a woman's virginity

Twenty-year-old Yogita is training to join the police force and knows her rights. She says about her husband, "Had he not asked for my forgiveness, I would have filed an FIR." For Arjun, the choice was simple - marriage or jail. And now he has taken his unvirgin bride back. Arjun has given a written assurance to Yogita that there is no threat to her life and that she will live happily in her home. Maybe this is the prenuptial agreement she should have signed before the "saathpheras".

Yogita went back to her husband because of a social stigma that follows women who are not married and she feared for her younger siblings' marriages in the future. The family was under duress because of this. We can only imagine the situation at home between Yogita and her parents when she was "returned". The indignation, the accusations, the violence maybe.

While the rest of the country screams of gender equality, equal pay, and women's voice, a panchayat is still carrying out virginity tests. If Yogita was an uneducated woman who did not stand up to her parents or the panchayat, she would still be sitting at home under house arrest.

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

A sex survey by India Today Group-MDRA in 2013 revealed that even though men are three times more likely to have premarital sex than women, 77 per cent still desire to have a "virgin bride". And a huge 76 per cent said that they would not marry a woman who admits to have had premarital sex.

There is a hypocrisy in not only rural but urban centres across India where men have live-in relationships and marry for a second or third time but still want a virgin bride.

In 2009, I published a novel called Losing My Virginity And Other Dumb Ideas which spoke about a 30-year-old woman who could not find love and hence wanted to lose her virginity. Virginity, I presumed, was a big deal then.

Women wanted to save themselves for their wedding night not because of what the man might think of them, but purely because it was a lifestyle choice (not finding the correct man, wanting to begin the marriage on a pure note and so on).

But virginity wasn't demanded of a man. The India Today survey of 2013 also showed that 74 per cent of women wanted their husbands to be virgins as well. But no one has any tests for men. And the best a woman can do is to believe him while the invasive virginity test is still carried out for women not only in India but across the world.

It is a "matter of honour" for the woman to be a virgin although no woman has ever wanted or asked for a test. While women's rights activists are enraged and indignant about this, there is not much that a woman can do if her family subjects her to a virginity test since there is no rehabilitation for the woman if she chooses to protest against her family or in-laws for doing so.

There are activists, police force and well-wishers who are advising Yogita and her family on what the law says. The police can no longer intervene since she has not filed any charges. Probably at the behest of her parents who didn't want the entire conservative village looking at the family with contempt.

But what happens when the activists and well-wishers leave? The suspicion of this twice-married man on his new bride will still remain. Will he still love her as passionately as when he took his vows? If she gets pregnant, will he still have doubts? Will he stand up for her when the village taunts her since now everyone knows she was not a virgin?

A political leader has jumped into the fray to declare that his party will advise the panchayat against these tests. But the issue now is not that these tests were performed. The issue is that in a society where we speak about gender equality, empowerment of women, and choices for females, a large portion of Indian men still want a virgin wife because that gives him power over her.

The only way we can alter this thought process is to 1) educate the women so they can earn on their own, 2) change the mindsets by creating awareness about virginity and honour, 3) have a strict law that prevents any such virginity tests to be done, and 4) punishment for the family that disobeys the law.

Yogita may just turn out to be a role model for the girls of the village and her younger siblings. She not only took on an entire village and a rigid panchayat but also her parents to stand her ground. And then chose to return to a marriage she believed she could be happy in. And through her maybe we will get rid of these archaic virginity tests and truly empower women. Now that's something the nation should be talking about.

Writer

Madhuri Banerjee Madhuri Banerjee @madhuribanerjee

Author, script writer, assistant director, relationship expert and a doting mother. She is the bestselling author of six novels with her seventh release this month called Forbidden Desires (available at goo.gl/Y7eOIe). She has also won a National Award for her documentary on women’s issues called "Between Dualities.” She has her own production company called Aria Entertainment House and is an Ad film Director having directed Juhi Chawla, Sharmila Tagore, etc. For more, visit www.madhuribanerjee.in or follow her blog, www.madhuribanerjee.blogspot.in.

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