Sat, May 14, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Asian migrants tested for virginity in UK in 1970s

VISA PROOF:More than 80 women coming from India and Pakistan were subjected to virginity tests on arrival at London’s Heathrow airport, an Australian study shows

By Huma Qureshi  /  The Guardian, LONDON

“We suspect that the documents extracted may well be the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “We fear that many cases occurred.”

The official documents never included the names of those tested.

“This is quite distressing as it corroborates our argument that women were just seen as ‘bodies’ to be checked for sociopolitical purposes,” Marmo said.

Marmo and Smith said the immigration officers justified the tests on the stereotype of south Asian women as “submissive, meek and tradition-bound” and on the “absurd generalization” that Asian women were always virgins before they married.

“Even if this generalization had some factual element to it, the practice of ‘testing’ virginity through an invasive medical procedure was still a major violation of the migrant woman’s rights,” their report said.

My mom didn’t meet the stereotype of a “submissive” or “meek” south Asian woman back then, any more than she does now. She arrived in the UK with a master’s degree in politics and strong-minded views, fluent in three languages, confident and excited about what the future here would hold. My parents had already proved their marriage to British officials, submitting the marriage certificate and my mom also already had a visa, allowing her entry into the UK.

So why, then, considering she had all the correct legal documentation required to enter the country, did she still have to go through this degrading test?

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it was the color of my skin and where I came from. They didn’t do it to the women coming from Europe or Australia or America, did they? I suppose it was just to prove that they had power in their hands.”

Marmo said she was shocked that a married woman, with a visa already in place, was subjected to a virginity test: “It opens up a new can of worms. There was no limit here, and it’s even worse than expected.”

The UK government is now under pressure to issue an apology to the Asian women subjected to these tests, although there is no way of knowing just how many there were, unless they come forward.

Like Marmo, my mom also suspects that many more than 81 Asian women of her generation went through these apparently routine virginity tests. She hopes that by sharing her story, it will encourage other women to do the same, and expose the way in which the Home Office allowed migrant women to be treated.

Does she want an apology from the government?

“Yes. I’d forgotten about it, because I thought it was normal, but it makes me angry remembering it. I was naive then, I went along with it. But I came here lawfully, to join my husband who was contributing to the economy. We didn’t deserve that sort of humiliation,” she said.

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