Immigration officer at Heathrow in 1979 asked Indian teacher to undergo the test
9th May 2011: In what is being seen as a shocking display of murky narrow-mindedness of 1970s Britain, at least 80 female migrants from the Indian subcontinent were apparently asked to undergo virginity tests.
Internal Home Office documents suggest an immigration officer at Heathrow in 1979 asked an Indian teacher to undergo virginity test.
It all happened when the 35-year-old arrived at Heathrow on 24 January 1979 for marrying a British resident of Indian descent.
The incident sparked off international criticism and made headlines both in Britain and India, resulting in a discussion whether her harrowing experience was isolated or a general practice.
The Foreign Office made attempts to pass off these as routine medical tests. But Home Office briefing papers clearly refer to other cases in Delhi, where some adult daughters applying for settlement were referred to an Indian lady gynaecologist with questions about their marital status.
The evidence indicates at least 80 women went through virginity tests in the late 1970s.
According to the Guardian, Australian legal academics, Dr Marinella Marmo and Dr Evan Smith, in their study of the cases say the immigration officers made attempts to justify the use of the tests on the stereotype of south Asian women as "submissive, meek and tradition-bound" and on the "absurd generalisation" that they were always virgins before they married. They also point out that the tests were useless: not every woman has a hymen.
According to the Immigration rules prevailing those days a woman coming to Britain to marry did not need a visa if her wedding was to be held within three months.
The papers dating back to those days reveal immigration officer at Heathrow also made an attempt to justify the need for asking her to undergo the "virginity test" on suspicions she might already be married.
The immigration service told Home Office ministers it appears that the passenger asked for a lady doctor but was told that there was not one on duty, that even if she went to Hillingdon hospital, the gynaecologist on duty might be a man, and that if she wanted to have a woman doctor it would be necessary for her to wait.
She elected to have the examination done immediately. But, she told the Guardian she consented only because she was frightened she would be sent back to India.
The Home Office initially confirmed referring her for a medical examination to see whether she was a bona fide virgin or fiancée. But claimed it was an isolated incident.
On the aftermath of the incident, a confidential cable from the British high commission in New Delhi to the Foreign Office said they had to defend their policy and practice. For this purpose the comments of the Home Office spokesman are not altogether helpful, the cable read.