By Tushar Jain
Before 1979, United Kingdom followed a protocol for medical examination of women who were immigrating to their country to marry their fiancées. This protocol would have gone on forever if an Indian woman hadn’t raised her voice after being examined in a manner which not only breached her privacy but also insulted her dignity.
On 24th January, 1979, an Indian woman landed at the Heathrow Airport. She was immigrating to London to marry her fiancée who was a British of Indian origin. At that time, people entering Britain didn’t need any visa if they were going to marry their fiancées within 3 months. But, the Indian lady had to undergo an extensive medical examination onto her plans to settle in Britain. The immigration officer was doubtful that this was her first marriage and was somewhat sure of her having children already. This may have occurred because of the age of the woman (Well, men can marry when they want to marry. A 35 year single woman is still not acceptable).
A week later, this practice made headlines in one of the famous newspapers of London thus exposing the practice of Virginity test, also known as the two finger test. Immediately, disciplinary action was ordered against the immigration officials who were suspected of having carried out these tests. Irony was that the newspaper article recorded a statement by Indian High Deputy commissioner at that time, where he had asked the British government to ban this practice as it was outrageous and was carried nowhere else in the world.
Just how wrong he was.
Every 1 hour, 18 women are assaulted all over India. This figure may vary from time to time, but the crime remains pretty active. I am still waiting for that one fine morning when I wake up to no news of marital rapes, wives being burnt for dowry, fathers and uncles raping their daughters and many other heinous crimes that go on in our society.
The 16th December rape case shook the entire nation. The victim succumbed to death on 29th December in a foreign land (Yes, she was shifted only after PM’s national statement which came a week after the incident). The rape case not only highlighted the frequency and intensity of crimes happening, but also how much our system had overlooked over the past 60 years. A committee known as the Justice Verma Committee was set up to discuss tougher laws and punishments for those who commit these heinous crimes. From protests to politics, everything was covered and discussed. And in one of these discussions, TWO FINGER TEST or the VIRGINITY TEST popped up.
A rape victim’s medical examination is always very important. Hence, the examination must be done very carefully maintaining high medical and ethical standards. India is a developing nation, a fast developing nation though. When it comes to ethical standards, the existence of two finger test was enough to confirm that we required a few urgent lessons.
The first question arises, what is actually the two finger test?
The test is conducted to check whether the victim has had a recent sexual intercourse. The test includes an inspection of the hymen. Hymen is a membrane that surrounds or partially covers the external opening of a vagina. Hymen is inspected as it can be torn only if the woman has had any sexual intercourse. Not only it is ethically incorrect but in medical terms, flawed. The status of a hymen does not define if a woman had any intercourse. As a medical journal states, hymen can be torn due to several reasons from cycling to riding to masturbation. Research even shows that an intact hymen doesn’t rule out sexual assault and a torn hymen doesn’t really mean a sexual intercourse in the past. A commonly accepted fact is that some women are even born without hymen. Imagine the condition of any rape victim, for after being robbed of all her dignity is raped again by such unethical medical practice.
Virginity test was used in some cultures to determine a bride’s virginity before she was married (Still being used in Indian culture). This was done by an examiner who would then provide a certificate of virginity (Yes, a certificate). The other option was by ‘proof of blood’ which required the tearing away of hymen thus resulting in blood loss. In case you’re wondering, no there was and is no virginity test for males.
Amnesty International, which is a non-governmental organization appealed for the ban on Virginity test during Egyptian uprising back in 2011. All the women detained during the protests in Egypt were made to undergo this test. The accused got away easily later.
Virginity test is rampant in India. India has a centuries old custom called ‘Kukari ki Rasam’, also called threat ritual. A skein of thread is used to detect the presence of hymen, if it’s not detected, the bride is considered impure. She is often beaten up to reveal the name of her lover and the male partner is often forced to pay money to the bride’s family. Yes, they make money by their daughter’s private body parts. The practice is still going on in the rural areas of India where media and NGO cannot reach. The police was also unable to do anything as it did not come under the Indian Penal code.
Anything illegal is immoral. But not everything immoral is illegal.
Other immoral but not illegal practices are also going on India. One of them involves a woman holding her breath under water while another person takes 100 steps. If she fails to hold her breath, she is considered impure and not a virgin. There is also a fire test in which the brides have to walk with red hot iron in their hands with just a plate made of leaves and dough to protect her hands from the heat. Yes, even we wish that these practices did not exist. The earliest mention of AgniPariksha or fire test happens in one of the most celebrated works of literature, the legacy still lives on.
Setting up of Justice Verma committee after the 16th December rape case for tougher laws meant an end was coming to the Two Finger Test. In the 657 page report, the committee mentioned:
“It is crucial to underscore that the size of the vaginal introitus has no bearing on a case of sexual assault, and therefore a test to ascertain the laxity of the vaginal muscles which is commonly referred to as the two-finger test must not be conducted. On the basis of this test observations/ conclusions such as ‘habituated to sexual intercourse’ should not be made and this is forbidden by law.”
In May this year, Maharashtra Government brought an end to this heinous practice. They issued a government resolution to do away with archaic and irrelevant practices including the two finger test. This was done to prevent humiliation and trauma for the victim. The GR was based on a report by an eight-member panel appointed by the state following a PIL in the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court filed by Dr Ranjana Pardhi in 2010. In the same month, even Supreme Court issued a statement asking to end this practice. This was in response to the outrage the government had to fact from activists, pubic and various groups after the 16th December case.
It’s sad that it took the death of a young girl for the media and other groups to notice this awful practice. Obviously, many people and groups were already protesting against this practice before the December rape case. The December rape case became a point from where our nation decided that it had taken enough of women violence and crime. The youth of the country stood together, New Year eve parties were cancelled, media held all those discussions and debates. Slowly, all was forgotten, the girl became just another victim; those protests became just another act of desperation.
Sadly, in a culture like ours, where women have been suppressed from centuries, things won’t change in a day, or even in a year. No one knows how many girls and women will die because of women violence before the system finally hits back to punish all those culprits. Things will change, but they will take time, they will take our efforts, our dedication and our concern.
Madhya Pradesh, June, 2013. In a mass marriage ceremony, more than 350 brides were made to undergo a virginity test. Officials from Chief Minister’s office obviously had no knowledge about it (Sarcasm). The mass marriage was being organized under the state Chief Minister’s scheme which helps girls from poor families to marry on the expenses of the government. Minutes before the garlands were to be exchanged, district officials asked the girls to undergo this test to avail the scheme which paid all their marriage expenses. The tests were conducted in the presence of many government officials.
And like always. Dignity, women rights and inquiry are pending.