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Recently, the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) removed the topic of virginity tests from MBBS syllabus – and rightly so.
Across the world huge significance is attached to a woman’s virginity as a sign of her character and marriageability.
Women and girls in several countries including India, have historically been made to undergo virginity tests for various absurd reasons ranging from requests from parents or potential partners to establish virginity as a criteria for marriage. The test was considered a standard to measure a woman’s ‘virtue’, ‘honour’ and social worth.
Victims of rape too were made to undergo the test, supposedly to ascertain whether or not rape (vaginal penetration) occurred; however science has already debunked the myth that an intact hymen is a proof of a woman’s virginity, as it can rupture due to many other physical activities too. Moreover, the ‘virginity test’ for rape victims also perpetuated the myth that rather than violation of a woman’s autonomy, it was only the loss of virginity that mattered.
In order to eliminate violence against women and girls, the UN Human Rights, UN Women and the World Health Organization called in October 2018 for an end to virginity tests. The UN agencies stated that the practice has “no scientific or clinical basis” and and that such tests are painful, inhuman and discriminatory.
‘Virginity’ per se isn’t a medical/scientific term –the concept of ‘being a virgin’ has its origin in socio-cultural and religious history which was created to control women’s sexuality and reproduction. This has impacted women to the extent that many women today who have access /to modern plastic surgery now even resort to tightening/reconstruction, whitening and other procedures to get a ‘perfect vagina’.
Moreover, sex doesn’t necessarily have to be vaginal. A woman can engage in oral or anal sex and still be considered a virgin in the traditional sense.
Medical examinations like virginity testing are a violation of basic human rights and can lead to re-traumatization and re-victimization of sexual violence survivors. Recently an expert panel of the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) had unanimously proposed that the syllabus content of ‘virginity test’ must be removed from the curriculum of forensic medicine in the MBBS course.
Dr Indrajit Khandekar, a forensic science professor had made a plea against this and maintained that:
“Inclusion of “signs of virginity” in medical curriculum/ textbooks has created wrong impression in the minds of doctors, general public, communities that virginity test is scientific and medical one. Hence, there is a need to highlight the unscientific basis of it in medical books.”
Earlier this year Parisa Rafiei, a student at the University of Tehran, was pressurised to take a virginity test while in state custody and then blocked from lodging a complaint against it, the details of which she revealed in an open letter later.
The virginity test also known as the two-finger or the PV (Per Vaginal) is an intrusive physical examination of a woman’s vagina with the purpose of judging the laxity of her vaginal muscles and if the hymen is distensible or not. The examiner inserts two fingers inside the woman’s vagina and based on the ease with which the fingers penetrate, her sexual experience is ascertained.
Referring to the past sexual history of a rape survivor was banned in rape trials in 2003; the proviso was added to Section 146 of the Indian Evidence Act. In the case of Lilu @ Rajesh and
Anr v. State of Haryana (2013), the Supreme Court ruled that the two-finger test is unconstitutional as it violates the right of rape survivors to privacy, physical and mental integrity and dignity.
Recently, the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) has removed the topic ‘Signs of Virginity’ from the syllabus for the subject ‘Forensic Medicine and Toxicology’ being taught to second-year MBBS students. It is a laudable step because studies and surveys have shown that in spite the change in legal provisions, some medical professionals still use this inhuman test in cases of rape and sexual violence, because it has been taught to them during their training.
Removing it from the curriculum thus removes it from the root and deems it as redundant and useless – and rightly so.
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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.
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