Around 350 women of the Gond and Korku tribes, in Betul district’s Hardoo village, were illegally subject to pregnancy tests before participating in a mass marriage ceremony under the Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojana. This state funded wedding for more than 400 couples was attended by local MLA Geeta Uikey and former minister Vijay Shah.

Betul, bordering Maharashtra, is roughly 200km south of Bhopal.

Anyone who has attained the legal age for marriage can avail of this government scheme aimed at reducing wedding expenses and controlling indebtedness. Couples are given household items like mattresses, gas stoves and mangalsutras for Rs. 9,000. Before the function at Hardoo, two health department employees Jayashree Budhauliya and Durga Malviya asked brides to line up at a primary school building in the vicinity for a medical check up.

“We found 10 girls pregnant. They were more than four months pregnant. We reported them to the panchayat medical officer,” said Ms. Malviya. District officials seized the household items given to the girls and they were sent away.

Betul-based activist Anurag Modi of the Shramik Adivasi Sanghatan told The Hindu that it was common practice among adivasis to co-habit before a formal wedding ceremony. “The government had no business to check if they are pregnant. This reflects the general mindset which does not treat adivasis as humans,” said Modi.

BJP MLA Uikey also condemned the incident, of which she came to know about only after the function. “This is an insult of women and adivasis. These officials want to destroy the traditions of adivasis. I demand that action be taken against them.”

After the incident, panchayat officials confided to journalists that this checking before mass marriages had been in practice for almost three years, ostensibly to check misuse of the scheme. Pradesh Congress Committee President Kantilal Bhuria, addressing a rally in Jhabua, also condemned the incident and threatened to go the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes if errant officials were not taken to task.

Collector RP Mishra told this paper that he has ordered an enquiry under Assistant Collector Neha Marvya. “I have been here for two months. This practice came as a surprise. There is no rule that calls for such tests. I have asked for a report within a week. This will also cover such incidents that may have happened earlier. Action will be taken on any official who may have violated the law,” he said.