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Male crackdown on child marriage in Assam

The police crackdown under the BJP-led government in Assam against child marriage has once again created social unrest in the state. The state government has stepped in with unusual zeal to stop the marriage of girls under the age of 14 through the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) and the marriage of girls between the ages of 14 and 18 through the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. The operation to arrest and imprison young men who got married in this manner, their parents who helped them, and those who arranged solemnising them started last Friday. As per the government announcement, the arrest will continue for a week. As of Sunday, FIRs were registered against 4,074 people and 2,441 people have been arrested. The police chief has stated that a list of 8,000 such people in the state is ready and no one will be spared. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma warned that the ill omen of child marriage is being eradicated from the state and there will be zero tolerance in this regard. Child marriage is one of the main reasons for rising infant and maternal mortality rate in Assam. 31 per cent of marriages in the state are within the prohibited age. The chief minister says that this eradication campaign will continue till the next assembly elections in 2026.

Women held protest marches to several police stations, alleging that the government's ruthless manhunt for the sake of women's safety is worsening the sufferings of women. Government figures show that the backward and minority sections of the society are becoming the major victims of government action. As the police started arresting husbands, fathers of girls, witnesses and priests by digging out old cases of even those who lead a quiet family life with children, only women are left at home and their lives are in trouble. The other day, a mother of two committed suicide in Assam's Dakshin Salmara Mankachar district, fearing that the father of the children would be caught by the police. Her husband, who was a minor at the time of marriage, had died earlier due to Covid. Another woman threatened to commit suicide in front of the Golakganj police station, if her husband and father were not released. These incidents speak for the fear and insecurity that the government's reckless move has created among the backward minorities in the state.

Laws prohibiting child marriage enforced in India prove that the practice cannot be routed out overnight. The last legislative reform on this issue was introduced in 2006, during a period when it was claimed that India was surging ahead in civilization and progress. Still, India has not come down from the global ranking of third place in child marriage. It is a universally accepted fact that systematic legislation and enforcement are needed to eradicate social evils and to prevent new ones from springing. The World Bank and UNESCO have pointed out that multi-pronged and systematic planning were required to eradicate child marriage. The population and the country can be saved from this social injustice only through a multiplicity of efforts including allocating funds in the budget, improving women's education, providing financial assistance to overcome the hardships of life, and providing training in skill development. But the Himanta Biswa government is not doing any of this in the matter. No schools have yet been sanctioned in areas predominantly populated by minorities. On the contrary, every effort is being made to control the madrasahs which provide essential education to Muslim children. In Upper Assam, people are allotted government land while in Lower Assam that benefit is denied. Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen, accused the government's move of being anti-Muslim because of such obvious discrimination. The actions of the BJP government, which has been in power for the past six years, without taking any proactive action so far to enforce the Child Marriage Prohibition Act, and now coming out with police action, cannot be viewed as innocent or well-meant. By stating that manhunt will continue till the next elections, the government is turning eradication of a social evil into a vote card.

The fate of the Dowry Prohibition Act will tell where these wild 'reform efforts' will lead. The government is tackling child marriage with the POCSO Act. At the same time, the role played by the state and its systems in dismantling the social security institutions including the family, which exist among the masses through a socio-cultural fabric of inter-relations of mother-father-teacher cannot be lost sight of. Most of the reported cases of child marriage in Assam were said to be elopements involving amorous relationship. The government and official systems are still at a loss on how to deal with this. Himant Biswa Sarma, a past-master in power-grabbing tactics of 'Hindutva', has set out to succeed by hunting down thousands of youths and men, making thousands of families destitute and filling jails without proper planning or plans for a solution. What brand of a 'new India' will be born in the 'Hindutva raj', which forces women to the path of strikes and to commit suicide in the name of women's safety?

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TAGS:Child marriage Assam police crackdown HImant Biswa Sarma POCSO Act minority communities 4074 people booked 2441 arrested 
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