The state Health department has issued guidelines allowing the finger test, also known as the per vaginal test, for medical examination of sexual assault victims when it is deemed necessary. The department stated that a complete ban on the test “may result in injustice”, after the Central Information Commission (CIC) had asked the Delhi government earlier this year to clarify if the test is still being performed in the city.
The guidelines circulated to all hospitals on May 31 were formulated by a three-member committee, including two gynaecologists and a forensic medicine specialist.
The committee stated that although the test “may not be necessary in all cases”, “it cannot be recommended that physicians be made to function under the constraint of a complete ban of these essential steps in the internal examination of a sexual assault victim.”
This may not only prove detrimental to her health but also result in injustice, it said.
The guidelines stated that it is “evident from media reports that a misconception exists in the minds of the general public, legal experts and judicial courts that the test is conducted by doctors to judge if the woman is habituated to sexual intercourse”.
In 2013, the Supreme Court had said the 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, formed after the December 2012 gangrape, had also said the test “should not be conducted”, and references like “habitual to sexual intercourse” should not be made.
The Union Health Ministry — in guidelines circulated in March 2014 by Indian Council for Medical Research — had said the test “should not be performed in cases of sexual assault”.
“Only those findings shall be documented that are relevant to the assault. It must be noted that absence of injury to the hymen does not rule out vaginal penetration,” the guidelines had said.
The CIC had asked the Delhi government to clarify the steps it had taken on the issue, after NGO Pratidhi filed an RTI on the matter with the Delhi Health department.
“It is clear from the reply of the public information officer (PIO) that they have issued no circulars and there was no prohibition of the test. The PIO claimed that medical officers have been sensitised. When an applicant sought inspection, the PIO said ‘not applicable’. The Commission finds this is not a responsible response,” CIC Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu had said in his February order.
The Delhi government guidelines said the test helps perform “a complete gynaecological examination, called bimanual examination”.
This is used by doctors to diagnose any “disease/abnormalities in the uterus, ovaries and other pelvic organs”.
The doctors have “clarified” in the guidelines that the purpose of the test is “not to judge the woman under examination”. They said it has three purposes — examine genital organs to “elicit signs of forced penetration”, document and evaluate extent of injuries, check for infection and treat them, and collect appropriate samples.
The guidelines say if a hymen is present, it has to be examined for injuries.
“To do away with this pelvic examination would amount to incomplete assessment of the victim and result in injustice and low conviction rates,” the guidelines said.
However, the test is not indicated as routine and has to be performed only if there is external or internal bleeding or “unhealthy” discharge”, presence of mass or tenderness in lower abdomen, fecal or urinary leakage and a history of insertion of foreign bodies in the genitalia. For very young girls, the guidelines stated that the test should be done under anaesthesia.
The guidelines also said physicians have to be “judicious and take informed consent” of the woman.
BJP, Cong slam ‘regressive’ move
“This test has been globally identified as a regressive practice. For the Delhi government to turn around and actually say it would lead to injustice is shocking. It’s a callous and regressive move,” said Congress spokesperson Sharmistha Mukherjee
“If the Supreme Court has issued guidelines on this issue, then the govt has to follow them… This is typical of AAP’s anarchic attitude… It is doing what it wants with no respect for what the SC has to say,” said BJP spokesperson Harish Khurana