I did not know the two-finger test was still taking place in India as part of post-rape official procedures. I had been under the impression that it had already been eliminated from protocol, so it was surprising to read that the Supreme Court has just banned it. This highly invasive procedure consists of a medical professional, i.e. a doctor or nurse, inserting their fingers into the survivor’s vagina. This has no scientific value and offers no medical insight. It is a perverse method designed to shame – based entirely on the notion that if a person’s vaginal examination suggests a history of prior penetration, they could not have been sexually assaulted. This means that prior consensual intercourse or assault, as presumed through hymenal or muscular markers that could arise from a wide variety of causes, could be held against the survivor should they testify.
But I hadn’t been confused: the Supreme Court had indeed ruled that the two-finger test was unconstitutional in 2013. But nearly a decade later, it is clearly still a part of sexual violence related medical and legal enquiry in this country. The Supreme Court has only reinforced its prior ban, with a new directive: anyone who conducts this ghastly examination will be held guilty of misconduct.
The legal definition of rape in India was expanded in 2017 to include penetration by any object or body part, as per an amendment to Indian Penal Code Section 375. It is my view that a person who conducts this traumatising examination on a survivor should therefore not only be tried for professional misconduct, but also for sexual assault itself.
Rape is severely under-reported for a vast variety of personal, familial and societal reasons, as well as the fear of systemic persecution – from police, medical personnel, in court or in the press. That fear is one that the implementation of trauma-informed and progressive laws can help reduce.
In the gap between my sense of déjà vu on the Supreme Court’s announcement and my discovering that there had indeed been a previous one, this thought crossed my mind: perhaps I’d been ignorant of current procedure, and presumed the violation of two-finger tests were bygone. This kind of occasional uninformedness is something that everyone experiences, and is natural. We are but human and our knowledge, exposure and assessment skills are both limited and evolving.
The limits are circumstantial, but the evolution is chosen. So much is revealed in such a pause, in the awareness that one does not know enough. To take that pause counters the pervasive culture of reactivity, groupthink and one-upmanship. It is a practice I’ve been trying to inculcate more often in all aspects of life. To know I do not know is the point at which I can begin to learn.
Yet, still on the subject of knowledge and not-knowing, I wonder how many survivors in these years had their awareness of the ban shot down by despicable doctors, and I wonder how many had no idea of the ban at all. To what extent is our tendency to think, or hope, that laws are applied as they should be contributing to further abuse?
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in November 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.