When Health Ministry of India came out with a draft manual for medical examination of
rape victims in early March, the archaic two finger test, use of the word ‘rape’ and identifying if the victim is habitual to sexual discourse were out for ever, a sign of medieval thinking coming of age. To my utter surprise this was highly under-reported in the media. I could only find an Indian Express report on it which covered it in detail. Although it is just a draft which is now open for public scrutiny but the changes it has made to how a rape victim is now medically examined will have positive social outcomes.
This is the first time that health ministry has come out with a manual to prescribe guidelines on how to examine rape victims. It has banned the use of the term; ‘rape’ clarifying that it is a legal term and not a medical definition. It goes as far to recognize that forcible sexual intercourse might not leave any medical evidence because emotional manipulation or any other pressure tactic might have been used to perpetrate sexual assault on the victim. Also worth appreciation is a draft toolkit for psychological support to rape victims. This recognizes that sexual assaults do not leave the victims only physical abused but also mentally bruised.
One of the most important guideline that has been set is banning of the two finger test. The two finger test which is medically called as, ‘bimanual examination’ involves insertion of two fingers in the vagina by the doctor to assess if any injury has been caused to the pelvic region and condition of urinary tract and uterus. This test is also linked to assessing if the victim is sexually habitual or not. This is the most problematic aspect of the test as it is used as evidence in the court. It intrudes into private details of the victim like if she is sexually active etc. to the court. Enters the picture patriarchal mind-set of the judiciary, lawyers and police and the larger society and rape victim has her case weakened. The cheap mentality which plagues our society is that if a woman is sexually active then her rape does not hold the status of as grave a crime. More crucially, if a woman has an active sex life is not related to rape at all. Rape is sexual intercourse without consent and even if it is a sex worker who has been forced into a sexual intercourse, according to law it is rape. The only purpose which evidence of habitual sexual intercourse serves is that it leads to questioning of the character of the woman and further justifies a crime as heinous as rape!
The step taken by health ministry is noteworthy but rightfully credit goes to human rights and women right activists who have been raising demands to stop the practice of two finger test since a long time. The draft manual is now up for public debate.
Update #1: In a related development, Supreme Court has upheld two finger test as an intrusion on victim’s right to consent and privacy and has asked the government to work on better medical procedures to replace this practice.