On February 13th, 68 undergraduate women students at a Bhuj school were period-shamed and forced to remove their underwear to ‘check’ if they were menstruating. Less than ten days later, trainee government clerks were subjected to gynaecological tests in which they were forced to stand naked in groups of ten. A complaint has been registered by an employee union of Surat Municipal Corporation which alleges that several trainees were made to undergo two finger test and pregnancy tests at Surat Municipal Institute of Medical Education and Research (SMIMER).
Physical tests are mandatory for those who want to continue to work after completing their probation period of three years. The employees further alleged that the windows were not properly shut, only the curtains were pulled. The cause of worry is not the physical examination per se but the deeply reprehensible procedure. The authorities are investigating the matter. While the Municipal Commissioner has formed a committee to investigate the incident. The city mayor has also assured strict action against the culprits if proven guilty.
Women’s privacy matters
The entire discourse around consent revolves around the basic premise that every individual must enjoy complete autonomy over one’s own body. Any institution like a school or medical college cannot force women to be humiliated in public in the name of tests. Severe action must be taken against any individual or medical practitioner who engages in such behaviour and shows no regard for another woman’s privacy.
These are instances of institutional control upon women’s bodies. Gynaecological and pregnancy tests cannot be conducted without the consent of the woman. Similarly, authorities have no right to check if any women are menstruating. It is extremely disturbing to uncover such incidents not from some rural area but from towns and cities of a relatively developed state such as Gujarat. What development can we talk about when there is no respect for women’s autonomy and privacy, or when they are being coerced to remove their clothes in public?
Patriarchy conditions not only men but also women. These are shameful and deplorable incidents which weaken women’s movements demanding greater bodily autonomy for women. When women themselves try to control the bodies of another, how can we fight for a more equal and dignified life for women? While women on the receiving end must strongly resist such violation of their privacy, those who engage in such behaviour must stop and think about how this is an abuse of their power. One’s body is not an object one can be forced to display in public.