Losing Virginity or a Life?

Friday, July 17, 2009

A mass marriage in Madhya Pradesh recently saw over 130 couples tying the knot. The ‘point-to-be-noted’ part of the whole affair was not the fact that this ceremony was covered under the Chief Minister’s pet scheme to marry and settle girls from poor families. It was the virginity test conducted on these girls before they were married that caught the media attention. The whole story in short goes like this. Just before the marriage rituals were to begin, one of the girls went into labor pains and that led to other girls being tested for virginity. After the tests it was found that 14 of the girls present were pregnant!

Now, this brings me to two questions - why the test and why only on women? The fact that 14 of the girls present were pregnant makes the testing justified. If I was amongst those grooms to be, I sure would have felt cheated if the prospective bride was found to be pregnant without my contribution to the process. Hence it was better that the truth came out before the damage was done. The other side, which is from the perspective of a progressive society, would say that the act was demeaning to the self esteem of women.

It should be left to personal choice of the people getting married to test for virginity, HIV or anything that they want to, based on mutual consent. Self proponents of society upliftment should be kept at bay. Marriage is a personal choice and both the parties have the right to ask questions to their satisfaction levels before getting into a commitment for lifetime. The fact that the test, if done, was conducted at the behest of the Government makes it contentious.

The answer to why the test is done on women only is simply that there is an absence of any mechanism to test virginity of men! That makes me believe that the creator of human beings was actually a male and held a biased opinion. The virginity tests, as one would put it, merely tell us whether a particular woman “conforms to what people of her time and place believe to be true of virgins.” It has got to do with how our society has evolved over the ages. The ancient Hindu mythologies would talk about women being subjected to tests to prove their chastity. Sita had to walk in fire to prove her purity after her return from Lanka. Virginity is equated with chastity in our society today.

There was a funny way to test virginity in the 17th century. The English physician Helkiah Crooke, offered his own practical virginity test which went something like this: If a woman is a virgin, a thread stretched from the tip of her nose to the base of her skull “should precisely encompass her neck, but if it is too long or too short, she is not.” Thank God Crooke spared the men and kept them out of scope of his study or else we would have been moving around with the thread of celibacy hanging around our neck as a proof of our “purity”.

The 14 girls from Madhya Pradesh who hid the fact that they were pregnant can’t be the only ones to blame. Even though they were lying, I don’t think as men we have the moral right to cry foul. Our conservatism has presented us with such a scenario where lying is not always a matter of choice but force. I read that in Bangalore, women are opting for hymenoplasty before marrying to avoid trouble. If a metro like Bangalore could behave like this, we can’t blame the tribal girls of a rural district in Madhya Pradesh for their action.

There is a brighter side to this hoopla surrounding the tag of virginity too. Natalie Dylan announced to sell off her virginity in an auction and got bids as high as $3.7 million. Methods to make money keep getting innovative by the day I must say. There will be a ruckus created after the Madhya Pradesh incident in the parliament where leaders will cry hoarse about the way women were insulted but that is where the buck would stop. There will be no one to think about how the futures of the14 new lives that are yet to take shape have been jeopardized. There will be no one lending a helping hand. Their mothers will be ostracized but their fathers will probably go on to enjoy a blissful married life with legitimate children and respect from society.

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