All 151 girls who participated in a mass wedding conducted by the Madhya Pradesh government on June 26 were forced to undergo virginity tests before doing so.
The mass wedding in Shahdol, 600 km east of Bhopal, was part of a welfare measure, the Mukhyamantri Kanyadaan Yojna (Chief Minister’s ‘giving away the bride’ programme) begun by the state in April 2006. Under it, single adult women from poor families – be they unmarried, widowed, divorced or abandoned – who have found themselves prospective spouses but cannot afford the wedding expenses, are married off in groups and paid a fixed sum of Rs. 6500 as well.
“At first I refused to go through the test,” said a Baiga tribal girl, who was among the brides at Shahdol, but who does not want to be identified. “But an officer told me I would not be allowed inside the marriage hall unless the gynaecologist declared me eligible. And the only way I could be eligible was by going through the test.”
“The gynecologist manually examined,” she added.
Dr Reena Gautam, gynecologist at Shahdol district hospital, under whose supervision the tests were conducted, refused to comment. “Speak to the administration officials,” she said.
“I’ve ordered an enquiry,” Neeraj Dubey, Shahdol district collector told HT. But his sympathies were clear. “The test was a precautionary measure,” he added. “Last year one of the brides delivered a baby even as the marriage ceremony was on. Since there is money involved, many women, try to take advantage.”
The programme has been allocated a Rs. 25 crore budget this year. In three years, 88,460 such marriages have been solemnized in different districts of the state.