Article by Jessica Rapana /
April 06, 2018 /
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Imagine dreading the first few hours of your wedding night, bracing yourself for the same humiliating ritual that brides in your family have faced for centuries.
For brides-to-be in many cultures, this is the devastating reality.
What is “virginity testing”?
Wedding night “virginity testing” is a ritual where in the first few hours of being married, newlywed brides must go inside a bedroom with their groom, who brings with him a white bed sheet. He then has to come out with a bloodstain on it, to show people – sometimes 150-200, sometimes just his own family – who are waiting outside.
If the bride “fails” the test – in other words, if she doesn’t bleed on her wedding night – she can then be subject to beatings, humiliation and divorce.
Blood or sheet ceremonies are part of the “long history of virginity testing”, according to Lauren Rosewarne, a senior political science lecturer at the University of Melbourne. She tells SBS: “[It] is designed to generate proof that a bride’s sexual encounter with her new husband is her first sexual experience: blood on the sheets is, apparently, demonstration, that her hymen was ‘broken’ on her wedding night.”
Such ceremonies date back as far back as the Middle Ages, she says. Previously, when the eldest son was the family’s heir, it was also justified as a way of guaranteeing paternity.
Is it an accurate way of testing a woman’s virginity?
The process ignores two things. First, that there is medical evidence that a woman’s hymen can be ruptured without sexual intercourse; Second, that not all women bleed when it is broken.
Where is it happening?
The “blood ceremonies” are still being practised now in many cultures around the world. According to Rosewarne, this is because there is still “value attached” to virginity. “The virgin bride is still prized as untouched, ‘unsoiled’, and thus still pure,” she explains.
Wedding night virginity testing is still practised by the Kanjarbhat ethnic group of India despite growing resistance by young brides and grooms, ABC reports.
In Tonga, a bride is also expected to show her sheets to her family after her wedding night. Inez Manu-Sione, from Tonga, married her Samoan husband in Australia when she was 30. In 2013, she told SBS she she agreed to take part in the sheet ceremony “to honour my Mum because it’s almost a disgrace on her if the process isn’t completed”. However, It was a confronting process, she wrote at the time. “Yet I’m glad I did [it]. I’ve graduated from law, become a lawyer and a teacher, but I’ve never seen my parents, especially my Dad, so proud.”
Also in Armenia, where wedding night virginity testing is known as the “The Red Apple”, where the groom’s family inspects a bridal couple’s bed sheets to ascertain the bride’s virginity. If the requisite blood is found, the family then send the bride’s family bowl of red apples. In 2016, a group of women staged a “bury the red apple” march on International Women’s Day, where they quite literally submerged the fruit in soil to protest the double-standard of the ancient tradition.
In all of these cultures, there is no ritual to test the groom’s virginity.
What are the ramifications of resistance?
Vivek Tamichikar, 28, is due to be married next month but is refusing to subject his wife-to-be to the “humiliating” ritual, despite threats from his mother to throw him out of the house. He has started a WhatsApp group and Facebook group to gather like-minded community members – mostly men and women at university – to launch a campaign to end the practice.
Tamichikar tells the ABC that taking a stand against the tradition has come at a cost, with members of the group being bashed and others having their cars and motorbikes vandalised. Most have been threatened by their own family members.
Priyanka Tamaychekar is also a member of the group. Her marriage is yet to be arranged but the 26-year-old says she is willing to risk conflict and even ostracism with her family to preserve her dignity.
“I have anger that is developing in my heart,” she said. “Why does this happen only to a girl and not a boy, not a man?
“I have to do something.”