A few days ago our newspapers featured the story of a Nashik man who ended his hours-old marriage because his bride failed his virginity test. Women, in particular, were outraged that he'd ended his marriage on the basis of one unbloodied sheet, though there were no morchas or peaceful candle-light protests for a change.
To me, it raised a more serious concern: our obsession with a woman's virginity. Just like fair skin and a slim physique, virginity is a virtue that's a must for a woman in the marriage market. Rape, in fact, is equal to losing honour. "Ghar ki izzat", the very honour of a household, rests on the thin membrane between a woman's legs. The breaking of this tissue, the hymen, could do serious damage to a family's standing in society.
Our obsession with virginity goes back to the times of the epics. According to the Mahabharata, Draupadi had five husbands. However, she was considered the purest woman in the world. This is because Draupadi had a special boon. She was supposed to spend a year with each of her husbands, but at the end of each year she would become a virgin again. This story is an example of our hypocrisy with regard to a woman's sexuality. Were her husbands (some of them also had another wife) also granted a similar boon?
"Ghar ki izzat", the very honour of a household, rests on the thin membrane between a woman's legs.
Call it a tradition, obsession or any other name, testing a woman's virginity shows the double standards prevalent in our society. Men equate virginity with trust. It is so deep-rooted in their psyche that they can only marry a virgin. Women who are not virgins are not seen as worthy of respect. I have often seen my male friends dating a so-called modern, "racy" girl. But when it comes to marrying that girl of their choice, whose virginity perhaps they have taken, they back out. Instead, in their own words, they'd like to marry a girl who is "pure", where purity is synonymous with an intact hymen.
A lot of this is to be blamed for the way we are raising both boys and girls. From a young age, it's drilled into the minds of girls that they are the "ghar ki izzat", that they are responsible for protecting the family's honour.
The boys, on the other hand, are made to believe that having a virgin bride is their birthright. They grow up thinking that virginity is a woman's best gift to her husband!
Over the years, this becomes an ego issue for a man. For a man, taking a woman's virginity is a mark of his ownership. Reminds me of slaves being branded in olden days. Just that this is an invisible branding, in a man's mind, of his ownership of his woman.
As long as we obsess about virgin brides, intact hymens and checking for blood stains on white sheets, we will continue to send out a regressive message to all boys and girls. It's time to teach them about mutual respect and trust rather than letting them think that the foundation of a relationship rests on a bit of vaginal tissue.
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