The two-finger test: Engendering women

October 20, 2015

by Nikita Arora

Virginity is probably the first virtue demanded from unmarried women in India. To have sex before marriage is a question too rarely spoken in Indian homes by growing up girls and would be considered too outspoken during her sale, err marriage. The rape cases, so far, have been dealt in the virgin-non-virgin duo as far as punishment for the convict, and verification of the act is concerned. The controversial two-finger test has remained over the decades the sole way of testing whether the victim has been raped or not, which is a direct manifestation of Indian culture which does not permit pre-marital sex. The test was legalized since the law had deep faith in the social structure which would never allow pre-marital sex and at the same time, to intensify the sexist socialization. For years, it remained the exclusive method of verifying rape, without any further research since the taboo worked so well in the society.

It is in this darkness that cases like Aruna Shanbagh’s have been addressed in so patriarchal a manner, that the victim suffered brain injuries and paralytic disorders for 49 years but the convict got only six years of sentence since he forced her into anal sex, not vaginal. The intensity of rape is decided from the place of penetration instead of analysing the social construct which made such a heinous act happen. This monstrous nature of the individuals and society at large needs immediate attention in the realm of society’s values considered historically.

Historically, the subcontinent has had a varied, closed structural organization of the ownership of means of subsistence, and patterns of distribution. These processes have accounted for certain customs and laws which have strengthened the character of procedures followed.

The first set of laws which governed the implementation of such processes are found in The Laws of Manu, the legalized text of maintaining the status-quo and attributing identities to groups or individuals involved in it, such as caste and gender identities and roles. As has been pointed by V.Geetha in her work, Gender in the 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”; the essential point being that of possessing anger, meanness, treachery and bad conduct.

As far as the characterization of women as Goddess is concerned, which has been depicted as one empowering women, is an exact opposite since only virginal woman, who has controlled her desires, is all powerful and wrathful and thus a goddess. The case of Sita giving the famous Agni-Pariksha is an illustration of the same chaste-virgin taboo, which continued in the colonial period and exists till date, with certain changes in its form.

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 was murderous. It was only in 2013 that the SC 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. Also, both the Justice Verma committee and the Union Health Ministry objected to 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 can be conducted; that a complete ban on the test may result in injustice, and said that it will be used to diagnose any disease/abnormalities in the uterus, ovaries and other pelvic organs.

But, if interpreted and questioned on medical grounds, penetration’s results cannot be countered by a further penetration! Rather, it requires peculiar tests, ultrasounds, study of 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 them, and collect appropriate samples, seems groundless, since even by the test no samples can be collected after a day or two, but places under effect of forced penetration such as uterus, urine infection can be diagnosed. On the other hand, we have structures in the US like SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), whereby nurses who have received special training conduct sexual assault evidence tests for rape victims. Instead of looking for such alternatives, our medical research seems to revolve around the now legal, now illegal, two-finger test. The point is not the scientific uniqueness of the test but the consciousness at play which has prevented the development of advanced techniques, which stems from the age-old beliefs of pure virgin Indian daughters. The debate of having sexual relation as one wishes to, has not been clinched, resulting in the complete absence of scientific researches into the matter.

This particular point, of women deciding 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 weak, shy, reluctant in all the scenes of love-making; their characterization as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ made solely on the basis of their hymens being intact or not. In an interview, Mukesh, one of the convicted in the Nirbhaya’s rape case, also remarked in a highly misogynist tone, “What was she doing late at night… We had to teach him a lesson..” (India’s Daughter). The recent statement of BJP’s chief minister in Haryana Manohar Lal Khattar, “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 because she is a woman. Yes, we are born women by sex, but we are made one as a gender i.e. we are socialized to accept the second position in a society having gender inequalities. It reminds me of Simone de Beauvoir’s saying that, “We are not born but become women”, which has also been brilliantly put by Mary Wollstonecraft: “Women are told from their infancy and taught by the examples of their mothers that little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience and a scrupulous attention to do a kind of prosperity will obtain for them the protection of a man, and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for at least 20 years of their lives.”

And what if they were taught to be like their fathers – the vast source of human strength, freshness of temper, masculine valour, decisive nature, rational pursuit; they would certainly turn out to be what the show Man’s World has tried to exhibit. The structural processes that engender women to become women in the patriarchal sense need to be multiply visited in the field of history by philosophers, scientists and researchers, to analyse the most minute and most obvious manifestations of misogyny that 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 victimizes the victim can be brought to an end.

An atmosphere needs to be created where justice can prevail beyond the definition of rights, where rape will have nothing to do with whether woman is habituated to sexual intercourse or not, and where women can stage protests for an egalitarian world. Only then can such sexist notions be replaced and can research be carried out in a productive direction. The two-finger test is just an example of how democracy has failed immensely in providing justice to women as a gender. It is through the re-establishment of democracy only that gender oppression can be halted at the time of birth by engendering both the sexes to be each others’ equals.