By Nisha Susan
What is the opposite of a shotgun wedding? The Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojna. This week in Madhya Pradesh, CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan was going to be all cute and pay for the weddings of hundreds of indigent young Adivasis in Betul district through a special scheme which is said to have paid for 160,977 weddings since 2006.
As with all paternal figures paying for weddings, there were some strings that the young women didn’t anticipate. Health workers made all 350 women go through pregnancy tests. (Some reports mention virginity tests.) About 10 women were found to be pregnant and were reported to the panchayat health officer. You’d think the women who were pregnant would go to the front of the line, no? No. Women who tested positive for pregnancy were turned away. The household goods (mattress, gas stove ityaadi which add up to around Rs 9000) which they get under the scheme were also taken away from them.
Adivasi activists are screaming blue murder for these outrageous invasions. The local MLA (BJP) has also expressed her shock at these tests and pulled a ‘culture’ card. Given that couples living together before marriage is perfectly acceptable among some tribes in Madhya Pradesh, it’s a good card to pull.
Said local MLA, ministers and Betul’s district collector are all claiming ignorance of these backstage proceedings even though several of them were present. They are blaming local officials. The panchayat officials, in turn, are telling all those who will listen that these tests have been on for years to prevent ‘fraud’ and middlemen and have been reported earlier, in 2009.
As always, of course the truth of any situation can only be determined be by peeing on a stick or having two fingers stuck inside your vagina. In the general outrage what gets glossed over is that you and I also would resort to things like signing up for mass weddings, conducted not according to our own customs or tastes, if it is the easiest (and perhaps only) Rs 9000 we can get out of the government.
As CGNetSwara reports indicate the government isn’t exactly throwing money at the extremely impoverished district. Little NREGA work, no roads, no water, bad schools. And other reports indicate it is also a spectacularly unsafe place to be a woman. Tehelka‘s Vikas Bahuguna wrote just six months ago that Betul is in the running to be the rape capital of India, with a rape reported every second day. The Mukhyamantri should be thinking less about who is a kanya and even less about doing dan. The district needs more than pheras.