10 girls were found pregnant and household items they got under the Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojana seized

Around 350 women from Gond and Korku tribes in Betul district’s Hardoo village, which is about 200 km south of here, were illegally subject to pregnancy tests before they participated in a mass marriage ceremony under the Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojana. This State-funded wedding ceremony of more than 400 couples was attended by local MLA Geeta Uikey of the BJP and the former minister, Vijay Shah.

Anyone who has attained the legal age for marriage can avail of this government scheme, which is aimed at reducing wedding expenses and controlling indebtedness. Couples are given household items like mattresses, gas stoves and mangalsutras for Rs. 9000.

Before the function at Hardoo, two health department employees, Jayashree Budhauliya and Durga Malviya, asked the 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 cohabit 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.

Ms. Uikey also condemned the incident which, she said, came to her notice 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.”

To curb malpractice

After the incident panchayat officials confided to journalists that this practice of conducting pregnancy tests 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 R.P. Mishra told this paper that he had 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.