Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In ’70s, UK tested Indian women’s virginity

London: Indian women were subjected to “virginity tests’’ in the 1970s before being allowed entry into the United Kingdom, a directive strenuously denied by Prime Minister James Callaghan in 1979 to then Indian prime minister Morarji Desai. These and other details have emerged from declassified British home ministry files.

The tests, to check whether Indian women claiming to be brides or fiances of British subjects were indeed so, took place at the United Kingdom’s missions in Delhi and Mumbai. The home ministry papers, according to the Guardian newspaper, reveal that entry clearance officers “sought medical opinion on the marital status of some female applicants’’.

UK’s foreign ministry officials are said to have confided to the Guardian that there were 73 cases in Delhi and nine in Mumbai. The Indian government angrily protested against the “humiliating and obscene’’ practice. The UK Border Agency, which now deals with immigration issues, stated, “These practices occurred 30 years ago and were clearly wrong.’’

In the late 1970s, the women were subjected to intimate examinations by immigration officers, as the records put it, to “check their marital status’’. The British government assumed that a bride or a fiance in India would be a virgin; if it transpired an applicant was not a virgin, immigration could be refused.

Virginity tests were banned in February 1979 after reports that a 35-year-old Indian teacher was put through the rigours by a male doctor at Heathrow. The idea was to determine that she was a genuine wife-to-be who had not borne children and a virgin.

“This practice was appalling and degrading,’’ said Indian origin British MP Keith Vaz. Lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla said, “The British government owes an apology to the Indian community.’

Reacting to the report, the UK’s home office initially denied any internal examination. However, the woman told the Guardian that she signed a consent form for vaginal gynaecological examination because she feared she would otherwise be sent back to India. She asked to be seen by a lady doctor, but was refused.

The now-released home office files record that after the incident became public, the woman was offered 500 pounds to ensure she didn’t sue the UK government. The payment was “in recognition of the distress she was caused’’, but she also had to agree “not to initiate any proceedings against the home office’’.

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