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MP: Pregnancy Tests of Brides Before Govt-Funded Marriage Ceremony Triggers Row, Opposition Demands Inquiry

Kashif Kakvi |
Similar pregnancy or virginity tests of brides-to-be were reported in 2013 in Dindori and Betul districts before the government-funded mass marriage.
child marriege

Representational use only.

Bhopal: Conducting pregnancy tests of brides before a government-funded mass marriage ceremony in Madhya Pradesh's tribal-dominated Dindori district once again triggered a controversy in the poll-bound state.

On the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya on Saturday, the state government organised mass marriage of 224 couples at Gadasarai locality of the district enrolled under 'Mukhya Mantri Kanya Vivah Yojana'. Under the scheme, a bride gets financial assistance of ₹55,000 to start a new life (Rs 49,000 in account and Rs 6,000 on marriage expenses).

According to officials, conducting medical examinations before marriage is mandatory per the policy. Thus, the tests of brides-to-be were conducted in government facilities. But the issue kicked up controversy when the names of five brides were removed from the list of beneficiaries as they were found pregnant.

The matter grabbed the media attention when former Minister and tribal Congress MLA from the region Omkar Singh Markam objected to it, terming it as an 'insult' to the poor and asked the state government to specify if it has set some eligibility criteria for those who want to avail the benefits of the scheme. “The youth in this poor region of the state are being humiliated through such tests, and this is deplorable,” Markam said.

Markam also claimed that the names of four-five brides whose pregnancy tests were positive were removed from the list of beneficiaries. “This is a violation of their fundamental rights and an invasion of their privacy, and I will raise this issue before the chief minister," he said.

This is not the first time that the issue of pregnancy tests before the government-funded mass marriage triggered controversy in the state. In 2013, similar incidents were reported in two tribal-dominated districts -- Dindori and Betul.

In Betul, as many as 350 women were allegedly put through virginity and pregnancy tests during a mass marriage programme organised by the state government under 'Mukhya Mantri Kanya Vivah Yojana' at Harad village in the tribal-dominated district.

A week later, as many as 40 tribal brides-to-be were subjected to pregnancy tests before the mass marriage ceremony was held at Bajak village under the Scheme.

In both cases, the then BJP government had issued a magisterial probe, unlike this time. 

Defending the move, district collector Vikas Mishra pointed out, "Since the cases of sickle cell anaemia (a genetic disorder reported among tribals) are rampant in the tribal population, medical tests were conducted before the marriage. In between, five girls complained about their menstrual cycles."

“The doctors subsequently carried out the urine tests of the brides-to-be, which established that they were pregnant. The test revealed that they were already married,” Mishra told PTI.

Five recipients had their names deleted from the list, and one of them said to local media, "I was told that all of my exams were finished and that I should get ready for marriage, but my name wasn't on the list. I've been residing with the man I wanted to wed for the last five months. Medical checks revealed I was pregnant. Thus, my name wasn't on the list.”

According to a local official, last year, during the mass marriage event, a few cases were reported in which already married couples and pregnant women enrolled under the scheme to enjoy the benefits of the scheme. Pregnancy tests were carried out on account of those cases.  

“Tests are performed to verify age, check for sickle cell anaemia, and determine overall fitness. Some girls whose cases were suspected underwent pregnancy testing at the direction of higher authorities," he said, requesting anonymity. "Pregnancy tests are not a norm. The couple submits an affidavit that they are unmarried and are eligible for benefits under the scheme, which was found untrue after the test. Hence, their names were removed,” he added.

Regarding the pregnancy test, Congress state president Kamal Nath took to Twitter and demanded a high-level probe into this incident.

“I wanted to know from the chief minister if this news is true. If this news is true, then on whose orders was such insult done to the daughters of Madhya Pradesh? Do the daughters of the poor and tribal communities have no dignity in the eyes of the Chief Minister? Madhya Pradesh under Shivraj Singh Chouhan government is leading in cases of misbehaviour with women,” Nath tweeted.

The former Madhya Pradesh chief minister demanded a fair, high-level inquiry and severe punishment for the guilty. “This is not just a matter of a pregnancy test, but this is about a malicious attitude towards women,” he added.

Congress, the left party, and social organisations also objected to conducting pregnancy tests before the marriage ceremony.

Jaswinder Singh, State Secretary Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M), said, "It's an example of a patriarchal society where only women are subjected to pass tests while men are free for everything."

He pointed out that the officials say that the test was conducted to prevent irregularities as many married couples enrol for marriage under the scheme to get the benefits. "State government can inquire about their marital status at the village level. Besides, why do such cases only report when the couples are tribals? Only tribals use such tricks to get benefits?" he questioned.   

While office bearers of Akhil Bhartiya Janwadi Mahila Samiti also objected to and demanded action against the officials for the breach of privacy. 

"On one hand, the government runs Ladli Behna Yojana and other schemes for women; on the other hand, they humiliate brides before the marriage by conducting pregnancy tests," said Priti Singh, state secretary of the Samiti. "We demand an apology from the government, and action should be taken against the officials,” she said.    

(With PTI inputs)

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