The Delhi High Court on Tuesday held that conducting a virginity test on a woman in judicial or police custody is unconstitutional, reported Live Law.

The court made the observation while hearing a writ petition filed by Sister Sephy in 2009 questioning the legality of a virginity test conducted on her. Sephy was accused in the 1992 murder of a nun, Sister Abhaya.

The nun was found dead in a well in St Pius X Convent in Kottayam on March 27, 1992, at the age of 18. Father Kottoor and Sephy were sentenced to life imprisonment by a special Central Bureau of Investigation court in December 2020. However, last year the Kerala High Court had suspended the punishment.

The Central Bureau of Investigation court had relied on virginity test findings to support its finding that Abhaya had been murdered to cover-up the alleged sexual relationship between Sephy and Kottoor.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma observed that the basic dignity of a person in custody has to be upheld, and that it had been flouted in this case. The High Court also allowed Sephy to seek compensation for violation of her human rights.

The Central Bureau of Investigation raised objection to the court’s order citing territorial jurisdiction. However, the court noted that since authorities like the National Human Rights Commission India are based in Delhi, part of the cause of action in the case has arisen in the national capital.

The murder case

Before the matter was handed over to the central agency, the Kerala Police had concluded that Abhaya had died by suicide. However, the Central Bureau of Investigation investigated the case and charged Kottoor, Sephy and Father Jose Poothrukayil in 2008 with the nun’s murder, destruction of evidence and criminal conspiracy.

In its chargesheet filed in July 2009, the central agency had contended that Abhaya had accidentally intruded on Sephy and the two priests while they were in a “compromising position”. It said that upon being discovered, Sephy panicked and “on the spur of the moment” she hit Abhaya with an axe. The three accused persons the dumped Abhaya’s body into the well, the CBI alleged.