Kasturba Medical College, Manipal in collaboration with India – Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Centre for Clinical and innovative forensics and supported by Vydehi Institute of Medical Sciences organized a two-day national-level medical symposium on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
The symposium focused on establishing a survivor-centric model of care across India. Specialists in the field of sexual and gender-based violence, including senior medical faculty (forensic medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry), lawyers, and women’s rights activists highlighted the need for better policies and practices to mitigate the structural and systemic deterrents which hinder survivors’ access to medical and psychological care. These include issues such as mandatory police reporting for POCSO, lack of holistic medical education and training among healthcare workers, prejudiced media narratives, and deficiencies in health-seeking behavior among survivors due to a lack of knowledge and awareness.
Professor B N Gangadhar, Former Director of NIMHANS, Bangalore, was the Guest of Honour, and also emphasized the need for collaborative care and training of doctors in this area. Dr. Achal Gulati, President of The Ethics and Medical Registration Board of the National Medical Council, was also the Guest of Honour at the inauguration, stressed the fact that Policies have to be formed such that Existing barriers are recognized and overcome.
Senior Advocate from the Supreme court of India, Ms. Vrinda Grover said, “Despite the amendments in the law, the bias and prejudices persist even among medical professionals and police personnel while examining the survivors. In terms of public perception, cognizance is quicker when bodily injuries are significant. However, the majority of cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the country do not involve grave injuries but the trauma and damage still need to be addressed as seriously. A woman or a girl child’s body should not be seen just as a piece of evidence but from a humane perspective of care.”
M.D. Venkatesh, Vice Chancellor, MAHE, Manipal said, “There were several news reports that incidents of sexual and gender-based violence increased manifold during the pandemic. But there is a dearth of proper insight and evidence on the issue as a whole. It is symposia like these that will fill in this gap and will lay out the roadmap for revision of existing national policies.”
Dr Himanshu M., Medical Coordinator, Doctors Without Borders, India said, “According to the National and Family Health Survey of 2015, only 5 among 10,000 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence seek medical care and this happens even though it causes both short and long-term health consequences. We as MSF have been advocating for reforms and we believe these should be led by the health sector and academia.”
The presentations during the symposium emphasized healthcare access barriers faced by women across age groups and economic strata – especially women who are survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner violence. Women’s rights activists also highlighted the access issues in terms of psychological and legal aid for vulnerable populations such as women with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.
Dr Jagdeesh Reddy, Professor, and Head, of the Department of Forensic Medicine, Vydehi Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Bangalore said, “Multiple guidelines have been issued by the government of India on the subject of sexual and gender-based violence but there are drawbacks in the implementation thereof. There is a need for in-depth research on the issue so that we can make robust policies based on our evidence and not from western countries.”
Dr. H S Ballal, Pro chancellor, MAHE, opined that awareness needs to be created, especially in rural India about the issue, since the majority of the Indian population is from rural areas and Dr. Sharath K Rao, Dean, Kasturba Medical College Manipal welcomed the gathering, and Dr Vinod Nayak, Professor of forensic medicine proposed the vote of thanks.
The symposium formed multidisciplinary working groups which deliberated and came up with a policy action plan and recommendations, which would be presented to the decision-makers and concerned governmental authorities, to help them understand the existing barriers to providing patient-centric care to SGBV survivors and make the required policy changes.