In a welcome move, Maharashtra's medical students are going to be introduced to the new, more sensitive guidelines detailing how to deal with survivors of sexual assault.
According to a Times of India report, the syllabus of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology for second-year MBBS and MD (forensic medicine) has been revised so they can be trained in the proper way of examination from a medical and legal viewpoint right from the start of their careers. The revised syllabus will be rolled out this academic year, making the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) among the first universities to adopt the guidelines prescribed by the Centre in 2014.
One of the biggest changes in the syllabus is that doctors will now be taught that victims of sexual assault can go directly to the hospital for treatment instead of having to first lodge a complaint with the police. Doctors will be legally required to treat the patients, perform tests and collect samples that will help the police in their investigation. The new guidelines will also provide a comprehensive list of tests and samples for doctors, instead of the ad hoc process being followed until now, where doctors collected only those samples that were asked for by the police. Doctors will no longer need to await police sanction to undertake time-sensitive tests such as DNA, sperm, nail clippings, etc.
Victims of sexual assault can go directly to the hospital for treatment instead of having to first lodge a complaint with the police.
Another major change is that while private doctors can conduct a medical-legal examination of the victim only when asked by the police, they are legally required to provide basic treatment to the patient instead of directing them to government hospitals right away, as is often done today due to lack of knowledge about proper protocol and news.
Other changes include extending psychological support to victims, greater sensitivity in dealing with them instead of treating them like a walking-talking crime scene, not using the commonly used phrase 'evidence of rape' while presenting medical findings , and, most importantly, taking the victims to a separate, private room for examination instead of the out-patient department (OPD). The new syllabus will also include guidelines such as strictly avoiding the use of derogatory language by supporting hospital staff.
The awful and unscientific 'two-finger' rape test to ascertain whether a woman was habituated to sex was outlawed, thanks to the new guidelines.
The switch to the new syllabus was possible, in part, due to the efforts of Dr Indrajit Khandekar, in-charge of the Clinical Forensic Medicine Unit at Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (MGIMS) in Sevagram, Wardha. He has been persistent in his belief that it was in both the doctors' and the patients' best interest that the syllabus be revised in keeping with the new guidelines.
"If we teach the old format and ask them to use the new procedure during examination, doctors will fail to handle the medico-legal aspects of cases effectively. If teaching and actual practice complement each other, the outcome will be definitely better," TOI quoted Dr Khandekar as saying.
In addition to changing the medical syllabus to reflect the new guidelines for examination of sexual assault victims, Dr Khandekar was instrumental in drafting them in the first place for the Centre's approval, back in 2014. A PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court based on his study report called 'Pitiable & Horrendous Quality Of Forensic Medical Examination Of Sexual Assault Cases'. The awful and unscientific 'two-finger' rape test to ascertain whether a woman was habituated to sex was outlawed, thanks to the new guidelines. Other positive changes outlined by the manual was ensuring the victim's privacy, providing counselling and support, and providing comprehensive care which addressed issues like physical injuries, STDs, HIV, Hepatitis B, etc., among others.