By Nikita Arora:
Virginity is probably the first ‘virtue’ demanded from unmarried women in India. To have sex before marriage is a question rarely addressed in Indian homes when a girl is growing up, and spoken about without hesitation during her sale, err… marriage.
Many rape cases in India have been dealt within the virgin-non-virgin duo as far as the punishment for the convict and ‘verification’ of the act is concerned. Over the decades, the unscientific and archaic two-finger test has remained one of the prime methods of testing whether the victim has been raped or not. This test is a direct manifestation of Indian tradition that considers pre-marital sex as a major taboo.
For years, the two-finger test remained the exclusive method of verifying rape, without any further research conducted for finding other scientific and sensitive methods, since the taboo worked so well in the society. It is in this darkness that cases like Aruna Shanbaug’s have been addressed in such a patriarchal a manner, that the victim suffered brain injuries and typical paralytic disorders for 49 years, but the convict got sentenced to only six years in jail since the rape was anal, and not vaginal. Here, the intensity of rape was decided from the place of penetration instead of analysing the social construct that made such a heinous crime happen in the first place.
The earliest known set of laws that governed societal and organisational structure in India are The Laws of Manu, the legalised text of maintaining the status quo and attributing identities to groups or individuals, such as caste and gender identities and roles. As pointed by writer and social historian V. Geetha in her work, Gender from her series, Theorizing Feminism, where she refers of the quote of Manu that, “Knowing their (women’s) disposition, which the lord of creatures laid upon them at the time of creation (i.e. their reproductive power, their sexuality, their essential nature), every man should most strenuously exert himself to guard them.” As far as the characterization of women as Goddess is concerned, which has been heavily regarded as one that empowers women, is in reality the exact opposite, since only women who are virgin, who have ‘controlled’ their desires, are all powerful and wrathful, and thus goddesses. The case of Sita giving the famous ‘Agni Pariksha’ is an illustration of the same chaste-virgin norm, which has continued from the colonial period till today.
However, the assumption and imposition (of forbidding pre-marital sex) got challenged when married women lodged complaints of being raped and there was no way in which rape could be verified except when it led to murder. It was in 2013 when the Supreme Court said that the two-finger test violates the victim’s right to privacy and asked the government to provide better medical procedures to confirm sexual assault. The Justice Verma Committee also looked down upon the test. But, a few months back, the tables turned when on May 31, the AAP Government’s Health Ministry passed circulars to all hospitals and doctors stating that the test could be conducted as a complete ban on it might result in injustice. The government added that it would be used to diagnose any disease/abnormalities in the uterus, ovaries and other pelvic organs. But, if interpreted and questioned on medical grounds, a penetration’s result cannot be countered by further penetration! Rather, it requires more specific tests, ultrasounds, a thorough study of the pelvic organs. Secondly, the argument that it is essential to locate elicit signs of forced penetration, document and evaluate extent of injuries, check for infection and treat it, and collect appropriate samples, seems groundless, since even by the test no samples can be collected after a day or two, but the areas affected by forced penetration such as uterus, urine infection can be identified.
On the other hand, we have SANE, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, in the U.S, who is a nurse and who has received special training to conduct sexual assault evidentiary tests for rape victims. Instead of looking for such alternatives, our medical research seems to revolve around the now illegal, now legal two-finger test. The point is not the scientific surety of the test but the consciousness at play which has barred us from developing advanced techniques, which stems from age-old beliefs of ‘pure virgin Indian daughters’.
The point of women having the right to exercise complete control over their bodies, whether to have sex or not, has been ruled out even as a possibility by Indian policymakers, doctors, and scientists. Till date, ‘good’ women have been exhibited as shy, modest, weak and reluctant in all the scenes of love-making; their characterisation as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ made solely on the basis of their hymens being intact or not. In the documentary India’s Daughter, Mukesh, one of the convicts of the Nirbhaya rape case, remarked in a highly misogynistic tone, “What was she doing late at night? We had to teach her a lesson.” The recent statement of Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar that, “If women want freedom, why don’t they roam naked?” is an outrage expressed by reactionary elements of the state when women assert their position in society.
Whenever a woman tries to bring forth the question of equality and freedom, her voice is shunned in the name of being a woman. Yes, we are born women, as a sex, but we are made one, as a gender, i.e., we are socialised to accept the second position in an unequal, gendered society. It reminds me of Simone de Beauvoir’s saying: ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.’ This has brilliantly been echoed by writer Mary Wollstonecraft in her words, “…women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for at least twenty years of their lives.” And what if they were taught to be like their fathers, the vast knowledge of human strength, freshness of temper, masculine valour, decisive nature, rational pursuit?
The structural processes that engender women to ‘become’ women in the patriarchal sense need a number of visits in the field of history by philosophers, scientists and researchers, to analyse the most minute and obvious manifestation of misogyny women are subject to as children. When the processes springing from childhood are challenged, only then such practices as female foeticide, honour killings, dowry deaths, or anything that victimises women can be brought to an end. Such an atmosphere needs to be created where justice can prevail beyond the rigid definition of what is right and wrong, where rape has nothing to do with whether a woman is habituated to sexual intercourse or not.
The two-finger test is just an example of how our lawmakers and society have failed in providing justice to women. Only through understanding equality in the real sense can we halt gender oppression at the time of birth and engender both sexes to be on the same plane.