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India: Reforming rape laws

A movement spreads to stop rape survivors from being subjected to the indignity of the finger test.

Doctors like Reddy say finger-test findings are scientifically baseless because the hymen tear or hymenal orifice size could vary due to reasons unrelated to sex. Importantly, Kashyap’s report argues that a woman’s sexual history has no bearing on whether she has consented to the sexual act in question.

The finger test is an unbridled practice even in India’s largest city Mumbai, confirms activist Audrey D’Mello of legal advocacy, Majlis. D’Mello has been witness to court cases that turn into lengthy negotiations of the victim’s character which end up “pass[ing] moral judgment on the victim rather than bringing her any justice.”

Sangeeta Rege at Mumbai’s Cehat (Center for Inquiry into Health and Allied Themes) has been recording the wide prevalence of the finger test at two large, government-run hospitals catering to hundreds of impoverished, illiterate rape survivors every year.

“We are working towards introducing international protocols in evidence collection in rape cases in the two hospitals,” said Rege. She said it is slow going.

Meanwhile, the finger-test crusade is spreading to India’s smaller cities. In rural Maharashtra state, forensic expert Dr. Indrajit Khandekar, authored a report linking finger-test evidence with legal outcomes. The report is the basis of a public interest litigation filed in March that that contends that culprits in many sexual assault cases are acquitted because of faulty medical evidence.

A successful campaign to do away with the finger test would be a victory for those fighting against the horrific ritual. More importantly, said Rege, “Doing away with the barbaric test would shield rape victims from unnecessary stigma.”