Culture & Lifestyle / Why The Shocking “Two-Finger Test” Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem

Why The Shocking “Two-Finger Test” Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem

Culture & Lifestyle Aug 13, 2018

Although banned in many parts of South Asia, the traumatic and demeaning test is still being done by medical professionals to determine a woman’s virginity. We explore why the shocking “two-finger test” used in rape cases in South Asia is a major problem. 

Understanding Sexual Assault:

The #MeToo movement recently blew the lid open on sexual assault and harassment women face that is all too prevalent throughout the world, unfortunately.

First, it’s important to understand what sexual assault means. By definition, it is “any type of sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Sexual assault is basically an umbrella term that includes sexual activities such as rape, fondling, and attempted rape.”

Being sexually assaulted is a deeply traumatizing, immoral, and cruel experience, that truly no one should have to be subjected to, and my heart goes out to anyone who has been a victim or survivor of that type of abuse. Healing from an attack like this can be difficult, to say the least, but some brave souls find solace in seeking justice (as they rightfully should) after being sexually assaulted against their assailants.


The Shocking "Two-Finger Test" Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem
The Shocking “Two-Finger Test” Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem: With the powerful #MeToo movement underway, there couldn’t be a better time to shine the spotlight on the sexual assault occurring in South Asia as well. Photo Credit:


The “Two-Finger Test”: 

Going to these lengths can also be difficult though, especially when the culture seems to result in the justice and health system working against you, which seems to be in the case in many South Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. For instance, in all three of these countries, the “two-finger test” is still often utilized in spite of the fact that it’s been banned in Pakistan since 2016, in India since 2014, and most recently in 2018, Bangladesh outlawed the archaic practice.

But, what is the “two-finger test”, you ask?

According to The Economist, the “two-finger test” is employed by a doctor to determine whether a female has engaged in sexual intercourse. Essentially, if the hymen is still intact, the woman is considered a virgin.

To provide context, the hymen is typically examined to determine if there are signs of regular sexual activity occurring, which would include scrutinizing “…the hymen for size or tears, and two-finger vaginal insertion to measure size of the introitus or laxity of the vaginal wall.


The Shocking "Two-Finger Test" Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem
The Shocking “Two-Finger Test” Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem: The problematic two-finger test is still used in South Asian countries, in spite of the fact that it is not medically sound and it is illegal. Photo Credit:


However, as described in The Economist, if the “hymen [is] ruptured and [the] vagina [can] admit two fingers easily. The medical opinion is that the prosecutrix may be accustomed to sexual intercourse.” The [disturbing] implication [is] that only a virgin can really be raped.”

This practice has been used for years and is ingrained in the culture.  It is continued to be employed (despite being outlawed as it’s not a medically sound method) and often caused claims of rape to be invalidated. As well, the practice disgraces the woman and depicts her as being immoral, especially if the verdict of the “two-finger test” indicates that the individual is sexually active. Sadly, as a result of the limitations of the practice, it is estimated that fewer than 10% of sexual assault victims, specifically in cases of rape occurring, are brought forward.


The Shocking "Two-Finger Test" Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem
The Shocking “Two-Finger Test” Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem: Unfortunately, for many South Asian women who are victims and survivors of sexual assault, the practices and beliefs prevalent in their culture force them to suffer in silence. But, the time has come to break that! Photo Credit:


The 2014 guidelines updating the practices surrounding caring for victims of sexual assault that were released by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are meant to“…integrate processes geared to respect women’s and children’s rights to privacy, dignity, creating a non-threatening environment, and informed consent.” With these guidelines, victims are supposed to be placed in a designated area for victims to ensure they are given privacy. They are also supposed to be given fresh clothes, according to The Times Of India  to allow for the “…smooth collection of evidence, [such as DNA samples] keeping in mind the sensitive circumstances.” As well, the guidelines “…provide comprehensive care which must address issues like physical injuries, STDs, HIV, Hepatitis B, etc. Also, the psychological effects must be recognized and the patient shall be provided counselling, social support, and appropriate referrals.”

Moreover, the 2014 rules made the “two-finger test” illegal because there is no medical validity to inspecting the hymen to determine if a female has engaged in sexual intercourse, nor is it a moral practice. To be clear, the condition of the hymen is not a clear indication of a females sexual activity. This is because, according to Sayfty, “…[the] hymen can be torn due to several reasons from cycling to riding to masturbation. Research even shows that an intact hymen doesn’t rule out sexual assault and a torn hymen doesn’t really mean a sexual intercourse in the past. A commonly accepted fact is that some women are even born without [a] hymen.”


Let’s Look At The Statistics: 

Nonetheless, the test continues to be employed and recognized in cases of sexual assault, where survivors have been strong enough to come forward to seek justice against their aggressors. But, when considering the statistics of reported rape cases, the use of the “two-finger test,” and the conviction rates, something just does not add up.

For instance, in India, where only nine states have implemented the new guidelines, as of 2016, there were approximately “106 rapes a day and four out of every ten victims were minors.” However, according to The Quint, in the same year, only one of four cases resulted in a conviction being made against the aggressor. To put it another way, of approximately 38,947 cases of rape in India in 2016, there was a 25.5% “conviction rate.” Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, shockingly, “only 22 convictions were secured in 2012-17 out of 18,668 rape cases filed.”

The continued use of the “two-finger test” is not only degrading, but it revictimizes survivors of sexual assault and works to dishonour them by focusing on whether the hymen is intact to implicate whether the person is sexually active. As well, when being assessed by a doctor, “the absence of injuries is frequently equated with the absence of assault,” which is equally disturbing. Ultimately, the survivor is demonized for supposedly being sexually active and the accused are, more often than not, able to walk free.


The Shocking "Two-Finger Test" Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem
The Shocking “Two-Finger Test” Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem: Females in South Asia are bravely raising their voice to seek justice for victims and survivors of rape. Photo Credit:


So, What’s The Problem?

The factors holding back the new guidelines from protecting victims and survivors in a humane way that makes them feel safe are threefold: first, the doctors who are being relied on to implement the revised 2014 guidelines to protect a sexual assault survivor from being further victimized and humiliated are failing. Here’s why, according to Human Rights Watch: doctors throughout South Asia continue to utilize the “two-finger test” (which is wrong in and of itself), but they also do not tell patients why they are doing the test, which can hurt, thus resulting in further distress. Additionally, healthcare physicians conduct the test regardless of “…whether the survivor is under 18 or an adult, single or married.”

Secondly, states need to do their due diligence to recognize the changes to the 2014 guidelines. The hope here is the justice system and judges will be more likely to consider these new rules when assessing sexual assault cases brought before them in court, and if they don’t, there is more room to review the verdicts or for reprimanding. With that said, it is evident that there needs to be more accountability from the government to ensure the 2014 guidelines are implemented and are being abided by to protect their citizens’ human rights to ensure that justice can be found for victims and survivors alike.

Third, and more importantly, the way women are viewed in South Asian culture needs to be addressed and education is required on the grassroots level to shake up present attitudes. Currently, traditional beliefs are prevalent in South Asian countries, which dictate that women are to blame for being sexually assaulted. To expand, women are considered to be “…flames and men are candles. “When the candle comes to the flame, it melts.” The implication is that men cannot control their lust; it is up to women to make sure not to arouse it.” The embedded ideology that women are the problem and are causing men to attack them, rather than the man not being able to control himself, is in part why the new guidelines have not been as successful as it could be.

In addition, how women are viewed for being sexually assaulted requires review as well, as oftentimes their “families don’t report rapes for fear it will bring dishonour upon them.” For women who are not ‘pure,’ particularly if the rumour is that they have engaged in regular sexual intercourse, they are seen as being damaged and finding a husband or social standing is difficult.


The Shocking "Two-Finger Test" Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem
The Shocking “Two-Finger Test” Used In Rape Cases In South Asia Is A Major Problem: It’s not a difficult concept. No means no. Photo Credit:

What’s Next?

That being said, South Asian countries need to work harder to ensure that their populations are educated on being responsible for their own sexuality, urges and they need to be taught about consensual sex to ensure the human rights of each person is less at risk. This will, hopefully, help to do away with invasive and humiliating practices, such as the two-finger test for good and shake up outdated ideas about sexuality and consent.

While progress will be slow, any step to #pressforprogress is important to help the women of tomorrow from having to endure being sexually assaulted and further humiliated two-fold by the archaic “two-finger test”, as well.


Main Image Photo Credit:

Devika Goberdhan

Devika Goberdhan


Devika (@goberdhan.devika) is an MA graduate who specialized in Political Science at York University. Her passion and research throughout her graduate studies pushed her to learn about and unpack hot button issues. Thus, since starting ANOKHI in 2016, she has written extensively about many challengi...


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