Virginity tests are inhuman and demeaning

Published on OneWorld South Asia, 23 July 2009.

In Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India, about 150 dalit and tribal women were subjected to virginity tests during a government-sponsored mass marriage recently. Kamayani Bali Mahabal takes a look at the outrage it has caused among feminists and other social activists.

Virginity testing is always discriminatory, highly invasive and often involuntary, as it was in the Madhya Pradesh case. It has been at the centre of a great deal of controversy and debate the world over, especially in places like Turkey and in several African countries …  

… Considering that a large percentage of the people at the ceremony was tribal, and that it is common for boys and girls from tribal communities to engage in pre-marital sexual behaviour, I don’t think doctors have any right to subject the girls to a virginity test,” she reiterates ….

… Virginity testing was started by the men folk of these castes to ensure that their women had not got into sex work before marriage.

Now, the men use it to ensure the servility of women and also to settle scores with other men. Since this practice is observed within the community, which is in any case extremely poor with widespread illiteracy and social insecurity, society at large is unaware of it.

The state has done very little to stop such practices and, ironically, in the latest instance in Madhya Pradesh, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party government that had carried out the virginity tests in the state.

As Gupta points out, only a widespread social reform movement, education and an improvement in livelihood opportunities can address the problem.

Dr Ajay Khare, Convenor, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Madhya Pradesh, describes this incident as an attack on the dignity and self-esteem of those girls who are being married under the government scheme.

Government’s dubious role: … (full text).

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