Mass weddings have emerged as one of the stranger trends from this decade. They're kind of cool, actually, because they reduce the cost of fun little themed table settings and expensive open bars from which your great uncle steals entire bottles of gin. Or maybe you just hate everyone staring at just you so you feel more comfortable around 467 other brides. In the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the government has set up incentives for mass wedding ceremonies: Not only do poor couples not have to pay for an expensive ceremony, they receive housewarming gifts like bicycles and dishes totaling roughly $270 per couple. But the mass wedding scheme, called Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojana(MKY), is also used to implement state-run initiatives. In this case, the state's goal was goal was to encourage virginity among prospective brides.
On Friday, 450 women were preparing for one such ceremony in a village in Madhya Pradesh when several of them were subjected to "virginity" and pregnancy tests, allegedly performed by government orders. The tests were performed minutes before the ceremony began, and were ordered upon suspicion that several of the brides for pregnant. The tests were not only conducted in the presence of district health officials, but after they pressured health workers to do so.
Although there are no "rules" that state a woman must be a virgin or not pregnant before getting the benefits of the MKY ceremony, officials said they apprehended couples who tried to get benefits of the MKY by "unfair" means. Curiously, they denied that the virginity tests ever happened, but they didn't state by what means they found out about the scheming couples. Of the 450 brides, over a dozen were reported to be pregnant.
In a culture where marriage is very much an economic exchange, it comes as no surprise that the government creates monetary incentives for marrying off young men and women, most of whom who are very poor to begin with. The MKY ceremonies were even used as a means to promote indoor plumbing— in order to get a license, grooms have to prove they own a toilet with a picture of themselves and their toilet.
But while toilet photos may be degrading in their own right, these virginity tests systematically humiliate and violate hundreds of women, worst of all, at the hands of the local government.
Image via Associated Press