Trigger Warning: Graphic description of sexual assault and rape, and strong language.
Posted by Kunjila Mascillamani
When I went through the ordeal that is called ‘medical examination’ because I made a rape complaint, there just one thing that I wished for afterwards. That this would never ever be done to another woman.
When a four-year-old child was gang-raped in G D Birla school, Calcutta, she was subject to a medical examination. I hoped against all hopes that it was not what I had experienced. But it was. A four-year-old child was subjected to the heinous practice of medical and legal ignorance, all because she was raped by two men. It was as perverse as it was shocking.
For those of you who are not familiar with what happens in a medical examination that follows rape, you can read my testimony here. The Ladies Finger republished my story (they have in the past, also published some relevant research on the two finger test that was banned). That was all I could do at the time. I was in no position to file yet another writ petition and go after the system that raped women after they were raped.
In my early twenties, when I was subjected to this test, I underwent tremendous pain. An old woman made sit on a bed and asked me to spread my legs. She approached me with a dirty red rag. I still haven’t understood what it was for.
Then she started pulling my vagina and looking into it. It hurt. I shrieked. She asked me to shut up. She was trying to stretch my vagina and it hurt like hell. I shrieked in pain again. She said, “what are you doing?” I said it was hurting. “Tat! What hurt!”, she said. Again she pulled it wide. I got up and wore my pants and said that that was all I was going to stand. I left.
Allow me to remind you that the rape that I had reported had happened more than a year ago. Yet, the police insisted that I undergo the examination. The purpose of it was to show that I wasn’t a virgin. That my vagina was ‘habituated to sex’. In other words: my hymen wasn’t intact.
Do you understand the futility of this? Most victims will agree to do it because the police and some lawyers make it sound necessary. In my case, since I refused to undergo that torture and they made me sign a paper that said so. This would later be produced in court. These are the various mechanisms that the system uses to dissuade women from reporting rape. Now think of a child.
The purpose of it was to show that I wasn’t a virgin.
She is not in a position to make any decisions. The police or lawyers probably told her parents that this was a routine examination and one that had to be done to strengthen the case in court. Right after the child was raped when the father demanded a medical examination (since there is more probability of evidence soon after the crime), the doctor violated the POCSO Act and refused to do it.The police refused to file an FIR saying that they needed a medical report. The parent(s) ran from hospital to station and back in the hope that their child would get justice. This is our system.
Is a medical report necessary to file an FIR? NO.
Can a doctor refuse to perform the medical examination without an FIR? NO.
Yet, this is the reality in India.
Newspaper reports clearly say that the child refused to undergo the test twice. I am a sexually active female in her twenties, who could not stand the pain. How can we expect a child to be put through this ordeal?
This brings me to the newspaper reports. First, let us all agree that they still haven’t figured out what pictures or thumbnails to use while reporting rape. These reports have a huge role in sexualizing rape which is gender-based violence, to be specific and has nothing to do with sex.
These newspapers, including Ananda Bazar Patrika, the biggest news network in the North East (Bangla) and The Telegraph (English), thought that it was important to print that the child’s hymen was intact. That too in a country where people don’t even have complete knowledge of female genitalia. There are men who have tried to ‘educate’ me that during periods, women bled through their clitoris.
It is in this context that newspapers are publicizing such a private detail of a child’s body. Don’t you get it? The whole system thought it was necessary to see if the girl had had ‘sex’ in the past or not. By saying that the hymen was intact, they were also saying that the rape that had taken place was ‘mild’. Surely for it to be ‘serious’ rape, the perpetrators would have had to penetrate and break the hymen?
Also Read: Of Vaginas, Virginity and the Two-Finger Test
No, I am not taking it too far. This is how narratives are formed by the media. This is the power that the media holds. They think this power can be used whenever they please to make or break stories. Look at a direct result of these reports.
It gave the supporters of the school more reason to bark foul. Repeated cases of sexual abuse at a school should not be linked to the school or its principal apparently. What mattered was the name and fame of the school and of course, please don’t politicize rape.
I don’t know how many of you have read Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The story is a tale of revenge circling around the virginity of a young woman. That’s where I got to know that there was a custom of hanging bed linen with tiny drops of blood on clotheslines the day after the wedding to announce that the bride had lost her virginity the previous night. In the story, since the woman was not a virgin, her friends gave her useful tips on how to ‘fake’ losing her virginity. Reading the reports of the rape of the child, one would feel that the media were looking for stained linen.
Why would they insist on examining a child’s genitals when she herself said that one of the accused removed her pants? One of the reports said that there was no ‘active’ bleeding. How does this explain the fact that the parents got to know that something was wrong when they noticed that she was bleeding? Didn’t her father shift her to a private hospital because she started bleeding again?
Yet, The Telegraph chose to write about the absence of what the doctors and papers are now calling an ‘active bleeding’. It becomes even more horrific when you realize that the medical team is pushing for a second medical examination because the first one was ‘inconclusive’. This is after the father made it clear that he didn’t want his child to go through such an ordeal ever again.
According to The Telegraph itself, “I want my daughter to forget this whole episode as fast as possible. But another test would bring back all the terrible memories”. So then, in a case where the victim is able to identify the perpetrators herself, why is she being tortured this way? Really? All you can come up with is the status of her hymen?
By saying that the hymen was intact, they were also saying that the rape that had taken place was ‘mild’.
It is time to bring an end to this torture. Not even a four-year-old is spared by the system when it comes to rape and sexual assault. First, people cried foul when it was called ‘gang rape’. Actually, this was after they cried foul over calling it rape.
The incident was reported in the media as the child being forcefully finger-penetrated by the accused. People made it clear that that was not ‘rape enough’. No matter what the law says, for a rape to be ‘rape enough’, the victim has to be forcefully penetrated by a penis.
For it to be gang rape, there should at least be fifty people doing that. I don’t want to think of what they would have printed if the child had no visible signs of abuse. No, rape is not written over victims’ foreheads for everyone to see and understand.
Women Against Sexual Assault (WASH) condemn this heinous practice of medical examination. We would like to state unequivocally that it is a barbaric practice that has no place in a case of rape or sexual assault, whatsoever.
The importance that is given to this kind of torture should be abolished. This is the second time that a child was sexually assaulted in G. D. Birla School? Why did the school circulate the name of the victim and her picture? Why don’t you think of all that while you eagerly browse pages to know the status of a four-year-old’s hymen and vagina?
We have had enough of virginity checks and stained sheets on display. Now go ahead and do something about rape culture that you so actively promote.
Also Read: The Survivor’s Guide on How to Navigate the Criminal Justice System
Kunjila is a writer, filmmaker from Kerala, currently living in Mumbai. She’s a feminist who blogs about cinema, gender and sexual violence. She also likes making films about women’s stories. You can read her blog at: http://kunjilacinema.blogspot.in/
This article has been republished from the WASH website with permission.
Featured Image Credit: India Today