The virginity tests conducted on brides before a mass wedding in Madhya Pradesh generated much heat in the Rajya Sabha on Monday - not so much because they were conducted at all but for the manner in which the issue was being raised in the house.
As Santosh Bagrodia (Congress) raised the issue during zero hour by reading out from a newspaper report, opposition members were immediately on their feet, saying he was being selective in giving details of the incident.
"Why is he reading selectively? Why doesn't he read out the government version?" shouted S.S. Ahluwalia of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while Bagrodia pleaded that he be allowed to continue.
Other members wondered why newspaper reports were being quoted, prompting Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan to retort: "Fifty percent of the issues raised during zero hour are based on newspaper reports."
This didn't satisfy Najma Heptullah, also of the BJP and herself a former deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
"(On another issue) Pranab babu (Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee) said 'don't go by newspaper reports'. Now he (Bagrodia) is going by newspaper reports," she maintained.
After finally managing to restore order in the house, Khan called on Bagrodia to make his statement. On Bagrodia concluding it, the deputy chairman called on Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to associate with it but she refused to do so.
"I cannot associate with it in the manner in which it has been raised. It is a sensitive issue. It has been reduced to politics," Karat contended.
At issue was the virginity and pregnancy tests ordered on 152 brides at a mass wedding in Madhya Pradesh last month. This happened when, just before the ceremony was to begin, a would-be bride went into labour pains, shocking those present.
After the tests were over, 14 of the brides were found to be pregnant.
Later, 138 couples belonging to different religions tied the knot.
The incident occurred June 30 when the brides had assembled for a mass marriage at Madhya Pradesh's Shahdol district, 350 km from state capital Bhopal.
The function was held under the "Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojna", Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's pet scheme aimed at helping girls from poor families tie the knot at government expense.
Marriages under the scheme are solemnised free of cost and all arrangements are made by the district administration. Every couple is also provided assistance in the form of household items worth Rs.5,000.
The state government has allotted Rs.25 crore in the budget for the Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojana. The government has also increased the scheme's grant amount from Rs.5,000 to Rs.6,500 from January 2009 payable to a girl after marriage.
According to the state's Economic Survey (2008-09), 88,460 marriages were solemnised from April 2006 to March 2009 under the government scheme.