Myths survive over scientific temper. As they are embedded in people’s conscience, it is not easy to weed them out. Even those who boast of scientifically empowered succumb to myths when it comes to personal and religious life. One such entrenched myth is the belief that ‘two-finger test’ can determine the virginity of girls or women. The virginity test is mostly conducted in rape cases to determine whether the victim is a sexually active person. It is also carried out wherein a sex angle exists in a case. The test is apparently meant to decide how habitual a person is in her sexual activities and the result is used as a yardstick to determine the veracity of one’s claims. It is based on the wrong assumption that women’s chastity or sexual history of the victims is important in rape trials.
The Supreme Court has come down heavily on this practice which is based on a patriarchal and unscientific assumption that virginity test is the right method to confirm the sexual life of a person; it is equally absurd to presume that a sexually active person would be immoral in her life. The apex court in its various judgements in the past few years and the Delhi High Court in its recent verdict have conclusively and unequivocally stated that virginity test is regressive, unscientific and offensive to the dignity of women. The High Court order came on a plea moved by Sr. Sephy who pleaded to declare the virginity test on her, in connection with a nun’s death in Kerala, as unconstitutional.
The courts have castigated the authorities concerned who continue to resort to this inhuman practice. They have held that the test is against right to privacy which is recognized as part of Article 21 of the Constitution. On equal measure, it is also violation of human dignity.
Besides these verdicts, studies published in reputed medical journals and opinions of experts in the field show that inspection of hymen cannot give conclusive evidence of vaginal penetration or any other sexual activity. Hence, Justice J. S. Verma committee, set up after the 2012 Nirbhaya case in Delhi, had recommended its banning. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, introduced after the Nirbhaya case, stipulates that a person’s sexual behaviour should not be considered relevant to deciding the morality of a person. There is yet another danger in conducting virginity test. As several court verdicts and experts have pointed out, in some women hymen may not tear during vaginal intercourse, while in others they may tear even without vaginal sexual intercourse due to sports and other activities and some women may not even have one. This is the established position of hymen. Hence, judging a woman on the basis of ‘two-finger test’ is unscientific, inaccurate and is nothing less than perpetuating a myth.
It would be pertinent to point out a study from 1906, as reported in The Guardian, which showed that a sex worker’s hymen was still intact. Another survey of 2004, which studied 36 pregnant women of whom 34 still had an intact hymen, too disproves the myth of virginity test. Still, the myth is so compelling that people would rather believe in virginity test as it helps to preserve a patriarchal mindset. Judicial intervention along with awareness creation could, to some extent, erase this myth from human conscience and belief.