'Signs of Virginity' to disappear from second year MBBS books

Updated: May 08, 2019, 07:57 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Maharashtra University of Health Sciences says there is no scientific basis for the content; will medical colleges in other states follow?

The Maharashtra University of Health Sciences has unanimously proposed the removal of the topic 'Signs of virginity' from the Forensic Medicine and Toxicology subject for second-year medical students from the next academic year. The matter was referred to the MUHS after Dr Indrajit Khandekar, a professor from the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Sewagram, urged in December the removal of the content as it had no scientific basis.

"It is unfortunate that we have been teaching 'signs of virginity' over years, without realising that the two-finger test method [one of the virginity tests] was not only unscientific, but even violated the human rights and dignity of the woman," said Dr Khandekar. Virginity is a too personal an issue and no one has a right to know if a person is a virgin."

He said that university exams often had questions like, how will you ascertain whether a person is a virgin? What are various signs of virginity? What is a false and true virgin?

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The chapter on virginity tests that will be removed from medical textbook
The chapter on virginity tests that will be removed from medical textbook

Relied on by courts 

"Each question was for 4, 6 or 8 marks," said Khandekar. "No medical text book offered scientific support to these claims, and none specify any test for ascertaining male virginity. But ironically, in most divorce cases, even courts are made to rely on these text books, and courts uphold lower court orders, asking women to undergo a virginity test."

For instance, in February, a Kerala High Court division bench directed a woman who had challenged a family court order to undergo a virginity test as sought by her husband.

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Dr Indrajit Khandekar, professor, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences
Dr Indrajit Khandekar, professor, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences

The division bench referred to a Supreme Court order that stated that in matrimonial issues, spouses can be directed to undergo medical tests if the material on record justified it. It was held that the applicant seeking such a test ought to establish a strong prima facie case for securing an order directing the opposite spouse to undergo a medical test. The division bench accordingly did not interfere with the family court order.

Inhuman Test

Despite a Supreme Court banned the two-finger test in 2013, rape and sexual abuse survivors are subjected to the intrusive test. Police routinely ask the medical examiner to determine if the survivor is "habituated to sexual intercourse".

Till recently, the forensic department even used a 30-year-old circular to legitimise the practice of showing pornography to those accused of rape to collect semen samples to match with samples taken from survivors.

Following much opposition, the state home department ruled that only blood samples should be collected to match evidence. Dr Khandekar said the removal of the topic from text books, however, does not guarantee any change in the methods used on survivors. He said, "We have other methods of collecting scientific evidence, like DNA samples, and such tests should be done by trained doctors in the presence of female attendants. With the topic becoming obsolete, we hope future generations of medical students will stop using this unscientific method. There is also a need to teach doctors about how to respond to court orders and appraise courts about the unscientific basis of the virginity test."

Unfortunately, the MUHS decision will apply only to Maharashtra. Khandekar has written to the Supreme Court and Union health ministry urging the removal of the topic from text books across the country.

Dr Shailesh Mohite,
BYL Nair Medical College
'The Medical Council of India has come out with new curriculum for MBBS students from this academic year. If there are directives then they should be implemented uniformly by MCI, rather than individual universities. I have not come across any book that says the two-finger test is mandatory to examine survivors of sexual assault. I also think the portion cannot be removed from text books, as virginity and examination of survivors of sexual assault are different. In cases of marital dispute, the only way to ascertain if the marriage is consummated or otherwise is through a detailed medical examination'

Indira Jaising,
senior SC advocate
'There needs to be uniformity in the manner in which medical examinations are conducted. The Ministry or Health has issued a protocol, which is not being followed. The Supreme Court has said the two-finger test is unlawful and violates the dignity of a woman, and these judgments need to be followed'

Dr A.L. Sharada,
director, Population First
'The two-finger test method is not scientifically supported and only aggravates the physiological and physical trauma for the survivor. A sexual crime on woman has to be dealt with more seriously and there are other scientific methods to establish the crime'

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