Three men in the western Indian state of Maharashtra were severely thrashed by a mob of nearly 40 people for objecting to an age-old regressive practice of conducting forced virginity tests on brides.

The mob as well as the victims belong to the Kanjarbhat community. The incident took place on Sunday night (21 January) in Pune city when the three men went to attend the wedding ceremony of a friend's sister.

The three victims — Prashant Indrekar, Saurabh Machhle and Prashant Tamchikar — are part of a WhatsApp group, called "Stop the V ritual". They are among 40-odd members of the group who want the practice — prevalent among rural communities — to be abolished.

As part of this regressive practice, a newly-wed couple is given a white bed sheet to lay on their bed on their first night, when they have intercourse.

On the next day, the community members ask the groom: "Was the bride 'fine'?" This question is asked to know if the bride had bleeding following the intercourse. The practice is based on popular belief that every virgin female bleeds due to the breaking of hymen after having penetrative sex for the first time.

If the bride is a virgin, the groom is required to say "maal khara [genuine product]" thrice. If not, then the bride is questioned about how and to whom she lost her virginity. The bride and the groom are then asked to pay a "penalty".

"We [had] taken up the issue to the public through social media. Some community members are against us because of it," Indrekar, who lodged a complaint with the Pune police about the thrashing incident, told the Times of India newspaper.

He alleged he was beaten up with chairs, along with two of his friends, and also were kicked and punched for objecting to back the practice.

According to Indrekar, one of their friend's sister was getting married on Sunday. It is when "the 'elders' decreed that the bride had to take a virginity test," they raised an objection and expressed their views on the issue, police told the paper.

Police added that the victims were beaten up when they were about to leave.

"We had not gone there to oppose anything, but people were still angry with us for taking a stand against age-old regressive practices of the caste panchayat, and feel we have defamed the community by speaking up about this on social media. They assaulted us and threatened us for creating awareness in our community," Indrekar said.

An FIR has been lodged against the mob and charges pertaining to rioting and unlawful assembly, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation have been registered. As of now, two people have been arrested and identities of five others have been ascertained, police reportedly said.

Vivek Tamaichikar, a student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and admin of the WhatsApp group that the three victims are part of, said they took the matter to police with the help of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (Mans) — an organisation working to eradicate superstitious beliefs and rituals prevalent in the society.

He alleged that in certain cases, the brides failing the forced virginity tests are harassed and even beaten up.