India's grand rape-prevention scheme of outing and public shaming rapists before turning them over to angry vigilantes admittedly has some kinks that still need to be ironed out. For starters, it sounds like a plan concocted by a tyrannical sheriff in an Old West boomtown who's been too long in his cups. It also elides some of the more pernicious victim-blaming that still plagues rape investigations in rural India, where the so-called "two-finger test" is still a totally legit (as in, it serves as admissible evidence in a court of law) way to investigate rape.
On Sunday, Human Rights Watch released a report that highlights the many ways in which police and government officials in India have failed to take rape seriously. The "two-finger test," whereby, explains the Wall Street Journal, a doctor "inserts two fingers into a women's vagina to determine its laxity and whether the hymen is broken, signaling previous sexual activity," appears in Indian jurisprudence textbooks and is admissible as evidence in court in cases of rape.
That the test is still acceptable courtroom evidence, says the Human Rights Watch, is an extremely unfortunate fact because it helps further the belief that rape survivors are "loose women." It also only serves to further emphasize how drastically the culture of rape prevention and prosecution in India needs to change. In the wake of a brutal (and now deadly) gang rape in New Delhi, some of India's public officials have been intensely criticized for their seemingly lax attitudes towards rape, which some politicians seem to actually regard as consensual sex. The case of the 23-year-old woman who died Saturday from injuries sustained on Dec. 16 when she was raped and beaten with iron rods on a bus in New Delhi has sparked country-wide outrage at India's treatment of rape and rape victims.
Though Indian authorities, after emerging from a two-week-long torpor of seeming indecision, have responded with righteous ferocity by promising to charge six men with murder (which carries the death penalty), human rights critics say that India's rape woes (of the 24,206 rape cases in India in 2011, only about a quarter resulted in the convictions of alleged rapists) cannot be so easily glossed over. Said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch,
For politicians, supporting the death penalty is an easy but ineffectual way out. It is much harder, but more effective, to revamp the response of police, doctors, forensic specialists, prosecutors, and judges to sexual violence. Survivors deserve an effective, coordinated response to sexual assault.
Until lawmakers and law enforcement officials do the hard but necessary work of overhauling the way sexual assault is both investigated and perceived in India, an endemic culture of victim-blaming will frustrate the pursuit of real justice — for victims and rapists alike — in rape cases.