Virginity is probably the first virtue demanded from unmarried women in India. To have sex before marriage is a question too rarely spoken in India’s homes by growing up girls and too outspoken during her sale, err marriage. The rape cases, so far, have been dealt in the virgin-non-virgin duo as far as punishment for the convict, and verification of the act is concerned. The controversial two-finger test had remained over the decades the sole way of testing whether the victim had been raped or not, which is a direct manifestation of the Indian culture which does not permit pre-marital sex. The test, was legalized since the law had deep faith in the structure which would never allow pre-marital sex and at the same time, to intensify the sexist socialization.
For years, it remained the exclusive method of verifying rape, without any further research since the taboo worked so well in the society. It is in this darkness that cases like Aruna Shanbagh’s have been addressed in so patriarchal a manner, that the victim suffered brain injuries and typical paralytic disorders for 49 years but the convict got only six years of sentence since he forced her into anal sex, not vaginal. The intensity of rape is decided from the place of penetration instead of analysing the social construct which made such a heinous act happen. This monstrous nature of people and society at large needs immediate speculative attention in the field of value systems of society in a historical way.
Historically, the subcontinent had and has a varied, closed structural organization of the ownership of means of subsistence, and patterns of distribution. These processes account to certain customs and laws which strengthen the character of procedures followed. The first set of laws which governed the implementation of such processes are found in The Laws of Manu, the legalized text of maintaining the status-quo and attributing identities to groups or individuals involved in it, such as caste and gender identities and roles. As has been pointed by V.Geetha in her work, Gender in the series Theorizing Feminism, where she refers of the quote of Manu that,
Knowing their (women’s) disposition, which the lord of creatures laid upon them at the time of creation (i.e. their reproductive power, their sexuality, their essential nature), every man should most strenuously exert himself to guard them.
The essential nature being that of possessing anger, meanness, treachery and bad conduct. As far as the characterization of women as Goddess is concerned, which has been out cried as one empowering women, is an exact opposite of the manipulations since only virginal woman, who has controlled her desires, is all powerful and wrathful, and thus a goddess. The case of Sita giving the famous Agni-Pariksha is an illustration of the same chaste-virgin taboo, which continued in the colonial period and exists till date, with certain changes in its form.
However, the assumption and imposition (of forbidding pre-marital sex) got challenged when married women lodged complaints of being raped and there was no way in which rape could be verified except when it was murderous. It was in 2013 when the SC said that the two-finger test violates the victim’s right to privacy and asked the government to provide better medical procedures to confirm sexual assault. Also, the Justice Verma committee looked down upon the test and so was done by Union Health Ministry. But, a few months back, the tables turned when on May 31, the AAP government’s Health Ministry passed circulars to all hospitals and doctors stating that the test can be conducted; that a complete ban on the test may result in injustice, and said that it will be used to diagnose any disease/abnormalities in the uterus, ovaries and other pelvic organs. But, if interpreted and questioned on medical grounds, penetration’s results cannot be countered by a further penetration!
Rather, it requires peculiar tests, ultrasounds, study of pelvic organs. Secondly, the argument that it is essential to locate elicit signs of forced penetration, document and evaluate extent of injuries, check for infection and treat them, and collect appropriate samples, seems groundless, since even by the test no samples can be collected after a day or two, but consequent places under effect of forced penetration such as uterus, urine infection can be diagnosed. On the other hand, we have SANE, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner in the U.S, who is a nurse who has received special training to conduct sexual assault evidentiary test for rape victims. Instead of looking for such alternatives, our medical research seems to revolve around now legal, now illegal two-finger test. The point is not the scientific uniqueness of the test but the consciousness at play which has barred science from developing advanced techniques, which stems from the age-old beliefs of the pure virgin Indian daughters. The debate of having sexual relation, as one wishes to, has not been clinched, resulting in the complete absence of scientific researches into the matter.
This particular point, of women deciding, to exercise complete control over their bodies, whether to have sex or not has been ruled out even as a possibility by Indian policymakers, doctors, and scientists. Till date, ‘good’ women have been exhibited as weak, shy, reluctant in all the scenes of love-making; their characterisation as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ made solely on the basis of their hymens being intact or not. In the interview of Mukesh, one of the convicts of Nirbhaya’s rape, also remarked in a highly misogynist tone that, “What was she doing late at night… We had to teach him a lesson..” (India’s Daughter). The recent statement of BJP’s chief minister in Haryana Manmohan Lal Khattar that, “If women want freedom, why don’t they roam naked?” is an outrage expressed by reactionary elements of the state when women assert their position in society.
Whenever a woman tries to bring forth the question of equality and freedom, her voice is shunned in the name of being a woman. Yes, we are born women, as a sex, but we are made one, as a gender i.e. we are socialized to accept the second position in unequally gendered society. It reminds me of Simone de Beauvoir’s saying that, “We are not born but become women“, which has been brilliantly put by Mary Wollstonecraft in her words,
Women are told from their infancy and taught by the examples of their mothers that little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience and a scrupulous attention to do a kind of prosperity will obtain for them the protection of a man, and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for at least 20 years of their lives.
And what if they were taught to be like their fathers, the vast knowledge of human strength, freshness of temper, masculine valour, decisive nature, rational pursuit; they would certainly turn out to be what Man’s World show has tried to exhibit.
The structural processes that engender women to become women in the patriarchal sense need a number of visits in the field of history by philosophers, scientists and researchers, to analyse the most minute and most obvious manifestation of misogyny women are subject to as children. When the processes springing from childhood are challenged, only then such practices as female foeticide, honour killings, dowry deaths, or anything that victimizes the victim can be brought to an end. Such an atmosphere needs to be created where justice can prevail beyond the definition of rights, where rape will have nothing to do with whether woman is habitual to sexual intercourse or not, where women stage protests for egalitarian world, can such sexist notions be replaced and can research be carried out in a productive direction. The two-finger test is just an example of how democracy has failed immensely in providing justice to women, the gender; it is through the re-establishment of democracy only that gender oppression can be halted at the time of birth by engendering both the sexes to be each other’s equals.
Featured Image Credit: Feminist Art