India: Brides subjected to 'virginity test'
Almost all of them were from poor, tribal families.
Eyewitnesses said the women had to queue up before undergoing an extensive physical examination by a female doctor before they were given a special badge which allowed them to participate in the ceremony.
Several of the women were quoted as saying that they had at first refused to submit to the test - but were told by officials that they would receive their wedding gifts worth 6,500 rupees (about $132) only if they took the test.
"Such a shameful act where girls had to reportedly undergo tests to prove their chastity to avail the government's financial aid were sinful and could not be tolerated in a sane society," the chairperson of the Indian National Commission for Women, Girija Vyas, said.
But a senior administration official in Shahdol, Neeraj Dubey, denied there had been any virginity tests.
He told the BBC that the number of marriage candidates who had turned up at the venue had far exceeded initial applications.
Many of the would-be brides did not have proper documents and some looked "dubious", he said. Therefore, officials present had asked the doctor to examine the candidates, he said.
Officials say pregnancy tests were introduced after a woman gave birth during an earlier mass wedding ceremony.
Mass marriages, generally organised by social organisations, are common in India where the custom of dowry is still widespread.
The scheme in Madhya Pradesh was started in 2006 by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan to aid girls from poor families to get married.
The scheme helped Mr Chauhan's Bharatiya Janata Party win many votes in state assembly elections last year.
13 July 2009
By Faisal Mohammad Ali
Source: BBC News