That rape survivors in India continue to be subjected to the two-finger test to establish rape even eight years after the Supreme Court banned it is a sad reflection on the abject insensitivity and lack of awareness among the medico-legal fraternity and law enforcement agencies. The latest sexual assault survivor to undergo this inhuman and degrading test at an Air Force hospital is a woman officer. She was allegedly violated by a fellow officer at the Air Force Administrative College in Coimbatore after an official dinner-and-drinks party. The crime that is said to have been committed after she had retired to her room and was in an unconscious state underlines a potential problem peculiar to the milieu in the services. It raises the need to instill a strict code of conduct and etiquette among the personnel, now that more women are expected to join the armed forces.
Equally numbing is that the distressed woman had to cross misogynistic and patriarchal hurdles before the wheels of justice were set in motion. Rather than the culprit being shamed and booked, she was allegedly discouraged by her seniors from filing a complaint and an innuendo-laden question about her ‘sexual history’ was hurled at her. Complicating the matter was the tussle whether the trial necessitated a military procedure or only police action. While the accused was eventually arrested, he was later taken into custody for a court martial.
In keeping with international covenants, the SC has laid down that the two-finger test violated the physical and mental integrity and dignity of the survivor. It directed that humane medical procedures that did not re-traumatise the victim be adopted. But the shocking regularity with which this rule is transgressed betrays a callous system and society in which a rape survivor, if not broken by the ‘shame and loss of reputation’, finds herself fighting an arduous and lonely battle for justice. Highlighting the continued use of the outlawed two-finger test, the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan — a forum of survivors of sexual violence and their families — had in 2019 petitioned the SC that medical licences of doctors conducting it be cancelled.