iconimg Thursday, July 02, 2015

Jyoti Sharma Bawa, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, June 08, 2015
Rape is not just a physical assault; it scars the mind, body and the very soul. Wracked by a million questions and doubts, it takes a survivor all she has got to face the situation and confide in somebody she loves and has complete faith in.

And when the woman believes the nightmare is over, when friends and relatives desperately want the healing process to begin – she is faced with the entrenched institutional bias that wants to question the victim before it puts the accused on trial.

It begins with sloppy investigation, lowly paid counsellors who may or may not be equal to the task and a medico-legal process that is unfamiliar at best and insensitive at worst.

In the midst of all this lands an advisory like the one from the Delhi government reviving the spectre of the controversial “Per Vaginal” test, or the two-finger test. The test involves a doctor inserting two fingers in the vagina of a rape survivor to detect if the hymen is present or not, and the vagina’s size and laxity.

In other words, it checks how habituated the woman who has been raped is to sexual intercourse and her sexual history. This degrading, inhuman test can then be used by defence lawyers to show the survivor is habituated to sex and may have consented to rape. Insensitive, much?

Not as much as the fact that it became part of the Delhi government’s advisory (before a review was ordered on Monday following protests) even after the World Health Organisation, Human Rights Watch and the Supreme Court held that the two-finger test on a rape victim violates her right to privacy and dignity.

And imagine a survivor, already terrified and psychologically fractured, forced to undergo this inhumane test by a male doctor. Think about the emotional toll of being tested about her personal life or sexual habits by a stranger.

Yogesh Kumar of the NGO Pratidhi says, “While the advisory talks about informed consent of the survivor before the test, the ground situation is different. To begin with, rape survivors have to wait for hours before medico-legal case (MLC) is done.
 
“The mechanism is rarely explained and it is left to the counsellor to even get everything in place as doctors would prefer to pass the buck than become a party to the case. There is no sensitisation of doctors and advisories just end up in dusty files.”

Kumar’s organisation wants a blanket ban on the test. “Why can’t they find a better procedure for the test which is already being used by other countries? Why does the government have to leave it to a doctor’s discretion whether a survivor should undergo this when the Supreme Court itself has discouraged the test?”

Pertinent questions to which the Delhi government seems to be scampering to find answers after outrage against its advisory.  

Dr Manorama Singh, senior consultant and gynaecologist at Max Hospital in Noida, says, “The Per Vaginal test is irrelevant. There are other procedures which will confirm rape and provide added information. In fact, the test is not needed at all.”

After the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, the powers that be promised a safer, more humane India to its women.
 
But a move like this takes India back to the dark ages where a woman’s sexual history decides whether she will get justice or not. And that is just not acceptable. 

Read:

Two finger test cannot be banned, says Delhi government

Delhi govt puts on hold two-finger test on rape victims for now, to review advisory