They are humiliated because they are poor
Posted July 20, 2009on:
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan is “technically” right when he says that no virginity test was conducted on the tribal girls assembled at Sohagpur in Shahdol district to get themselves married under the Government-organised mass marriage scheme — “technically”, because the girls were subjected to humiliation not in the name of virginity test but to ensure that they were not pregnant. The method adopted, however, was the same.
Chauhan has his fetish of “Kanyadan Yojana” (mass marriage of eligible poor girls) as his predecessor Babulal Gaur had an obsession with Gokul Graam (development of villages on the pattern of Gokul village near Mathura where Lord Krishna was supposed to have passed his boyhood with the cowherds). Uma Bharati’s fetish was the most esoteric. Immediately after becoming the chief minister, she had constituted a high-powered State-level Panch-Ja committee, the five Js standing for Jana (people), Jameen (land), Jala (water), Jungle (forests) and Janvar (animals). Neither Uma Bharati, nor any one else associated with her pet project, had been able to explain in concrete terms what they really planned to do. All one had from Uma Bharati and others was some vague claptrap.
Chauhan’s Kanyadan Yojana is, at least, not a vague concept and has some social purpose. However, his emphasis on this scheme, almost to the exclusion of everything else, has turned it into a rotten bureaucratic tamasha. The district officials, including Collectors, Superintendents of Police, Chief Executive Officers of District Panchayats, the Health Officers, Anganwadi workers, et cetera, are given quotas and asked to get actively involved in the hunt of the eligible girls and arrange their marriages. Almost the entire government machinery gets engaged in such mass marriages during the marriage season.
Since all his cabinet colleagues are not as devout as he, some of them treat the occasion like any other marriage ceremony, full of fun and frolic. A cabinet minister, who presided over a Kanyadan function, had found himself in the midst of an unsavoury controversy when the reports appeared in newspapers that the bedinis (girls from a tribe traditionally given to dancing) performed lewd dances at the marriage ceremony while the drunken audience made indecent gestures. The government sanctions Rs 5000 per girl for purchase of the household items to be given to the girl at the time of her marriage. As in any Government scheme, misappropriation of the Kanyadan money is also not uncommon.
It was this forced zeal of the Government functionaries that herded a group of couples, seemingly of marriageable age, in Byohari in Shahdol district in the last week of June. The panic spread among the organisers when one of the would-be brides developed labour pains.
This seems to have led to the overreaction in the officialdom at the next Kanyadan function scheduled three days later at Sohagpur in the same district. As many as 152 tribal pairs, most of them belonging to the near-extinct Baiga tribe, had assembled. Sohagpur’s Additional District Magistrate (ADM) was reported to have directed Dr Reena Gautam, gynaecologist in the Shahdol District Hospital, to organise physical examination of each of the would-be brides. The girls demurred but fell in line when told in no uncertain terms that they would be neither married nor given the “gifts” (worth Rs 5000) unless they submitted to the physical examination one by one. Of the 152 girls, 14 were found to be pregnant and were denied participation in the marriage ceremony, as well as the “gifts” that went with the marriage.
This method of ascertaining pregnancy was not only dehumanising, but unnecessary also. Pregnancy and marriage are two separate things in several tribal societies which are not burdened with Brahmanical hypocrisy. The Baiga tribe, in particular, is facing extinction and the Central government has, in fact, devised special schemes (implemented, of course, through the State government) to increase its number.
Even if Chauhan’s babus were so scared of pregnancy, they could have found it out through decent methods, by making inquiries about the eligible unmarried girls in their villages where everyone knows everyone else. Then there are the standard urine tests which are so common.
Ultimately, the unfortunate happening boils down to one thing: the young girls submitted to this degradation not for the love of Chauhan-sponsored marriage ceremony but simply because they are poor and the goods worth a few thousand rupees mean a lot to them. The State government has been claiming to spend thousands of crores of rupees in the name of uplift of the tribals who numbered around 1,22,33,000 in Madhya Pradesh, according to the 2001 census. The Chauhan government claims to have spent Rs 3056 crore on their uplift in the last financial year and increased the allocation to Rs 3869 crore for the current financial year. Will Shivraj Singh Chauhan explain where all this money is going –because the tribals continue to be as poor as they were decades ago and have to compromise their womenfolk’s honour for the paltry sum of a few thousand rupees?