Why On Earth Does Vinta Nanda Need A Medical Exam After 20 Years?!
Nearly twenty years after she was allegedly raped, writer-director Vinta Nanda’s journey for justice is only just beginning. A week after the Mumbai police registered an FIR against actor Alok Nath, the alleged rapist, Nanda is now likely to undergo medical tests. But how will conducting a medical exam for a sexual assault committed nearly two decades ago, prove anything? Won’t this only add to the trauma and harassment faced by the survivor?
To understand this bizarre protocol and how it affects a rape survivor’s chances to receive justice, after years of staying mum on the trauma they underwent, The Quint reached out to lawyers, a gynaecologist and sources in the Mumbai police.
Medical Exam for Rape After 20 Years? Why?!
Sources in the Mumbai police stated that while it is ultimately Nanda’s choice, whether to undergo medical test for rape, it is police protocol to ask her if she wants to go through with it.
“This is the protocol in all rape cases, where we have to ask someone if they want to undergo a medical test. Otherwise, we are asked in court why haven’t we followed the protocol. But it’s her choice because we know that it’s not possible to get anything in the medical examination right now. Court also knows that this won’t yield any results.”Mumbai police official
According to the medico legal protocol that is followed in rape cases, soon after the traumatic incident takes place, a vaginal swab is taken to collect traces of semen. Doctors say, the results, however, are conclusive only if the survivor undergoes the tests within 48-72 hours. Apart from this, forensic evidence like clothing, nail, hair, injury marks, etc are collected and documented with the consent of the survivor.
While physical injuries caused during sexual assault are likely to last longer than semen, they too fade in a few days’ time. In such cases, it would be impossible to obtain medical results that conclude rape even if done a few weeks after the traumatic incident.
“Years later, there is no way of determining if someone was raped. If a victim even comes weeks later, you won’t be able to examine injuries unless there are severe injuries and marks. But you would not be able to get any semen analysis through the vaginal swab. You can only do a test to see if the hymen is intact or not but that does not equal to rape.”Doctor Rishma Dhillon Pai, President of Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction
‘Utter Foolishness on Police’s Part’
Lawyer Rebecca John points out that while there is nothing wrong with the law while dealing in such cases, it is often the over-dependence on the law that causes problems.
“It only actually exposes the utter foolishness of the police, that you would follow protocol that you would normally follow. They obviously have a checklist and one follow the other, which is all very well when the incident has just taken place. But to go through with these tests, when the incident took place 20 years ago is completely redundant. What are you trying to establish? If anything, it would be a humiliating report where it would be said that a woman, is either used to sexual intercourse considering she is a woman in her 40s or 50s, so it is completely unnecessary.”Rebecca John, Advocate
Does Refusing a Medical Test Weaken the Survivor’s Case?
Police and lawyers insist that a medical examination taken soon after rape is committed can definitely strengthen the survivor’s case and is crucial evidence during the hearing. However, since medico legal tests prove nothing in a rape that is being reported months or years after it was committed, it is rendered irrelevant.
Senior advocate Amit Desai says while there is a rule book, the circumstances need to be applied to each case.
This means, when Vinta Nanda’s allegations are being heard by the court, the primary evidence that will be taken into account are her statements and statements given by other witnesses in the case.
“The law is fairly clear that if the prosecutrix making the allegation is a believable witness, then there can still be a conviction. And that becomes a matter of appreciation of the evidence, if the evidence is such that there is a ring of truth, then the court need not necessarily look for a medical corroboration,” advocate Desai adds.
Have There Been Any Similar Cases in the Past?
In 2010, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by two rapists who were convicted by the High Court of Karnataka. Rapists Santosh Moolya and Surendra Gowda were convicted of sexually assaulting two sisters, who were returning home in the evening from the quarry they worked at.
Fearing the consequences, however, the two survivors and their families did not lodge a police complaint or visit a doctor for over 42 days. Therefore, by the time they underwent a medical test, there was no trace of sexual assault present. This didn’t stop the Supreme Court from upholding the conviction handed out by the trial court and the high court.
The SC observed that, “The plea that no marks of injuries were found either on the person of the accused or the person of the prosecutrix does not lead to any inference that the accused has not committed forcible sexual intercourse on the prosecutrix. As observed earlier, there is no reason to disbelieve the statement of the victims PWs 1 and 2. On the other hand, their oral testimony which is found to be cogent, reliable, convincing and trustworthy has to be accepted.”
If the medical examination of a rape survivor done weeks after the incident proves nothing, then how can a test which has been taken twenty years after the incident be of any help? Maybe it’s time for a new ‘rulebook’ that focuses on sensitivity while dealing with rape cases where medical exam is rendered redundant due to time lapse.