Sometime last month, Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS), which controls all the medical colleges in the state, issued an order that the section on Tests for Virginity be removed from the syllabus of the MBBS course. The topic has been part of the Forensic Medicine syllabus for the longest time despite severe criticism in national and international platforms such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Within India, too, the procedure has been censured by several of the High Courts as well as the Supreme Court during the past decade or so.
The move comes as a significant milestone for Professor Indrajit L Khandekar, in charge of the Clinical Forensic Medicine Unit at Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (MGIMS), Wardha, but it is not the final victory. That is still some distance away, for the decision is applicable only to Maharashtra but not to the rest of the country.
“The process began in 2010, when Dr Ranjana Pardhi, an expert in Forensic Medicine, filed a PIL in the Mumbai High Court based on my report, requesting that the virginity test be banned. In 2011, the Maharashtra govt submitted a report to the Mumbai High Court, which we challenged, and a committee was formed with several members including me. In the committee meeting, we convinced other members that two-finger test was not valid,” Dr Khandekar said.
Then the Department of Health Research (formerly ICMR) appointed Dr Khandekar, along with others, to formulate national guidelines. These were issued in Dec 2013, in which the two-finger test was banned.
In March 2014, the Ministry of Health realized that the two-finger test for virginity was still being taught to MBBS students, and this anomaly had to be corrected. Dr Khandekar and his colleagues then conducted an exhaustive search of international literature but could not find any evidence to establish the validity of this test. “We then submitted a 464-page report to the Medical Council of India, the Union Health Ministry as well as the Maharashtra State Health Department,” Dr Khandekar said. This was in December 2018, after which the MUHS made its decision within a few months. But there has been no satisfactory response at the national level. “We have filed a query with the MCI under the RTI Act, seeking information on what action they have taken. Two months have passed, through the Act requires them to reply within 30 days,” the professor said.
Looked at another way, the MUHS decision may be a case of too little, too late. The new MBBS curriculum approved by the MCI Board of Governors will be implemented from the August 2019 batch. Dr Avinash Supe, chairman of the MCI curriculum committee, says the controversial topic has been dropped in any case! Besides, a senior official in Mumbai told this writer that the Two-Finger Test is still being ordered in many cases, particularly if the medical examiner does not have proper equipment at hand, or if the examination is performed by designated women under the supervision of the police.