Assam Crackdown on ‘Child Marriages’ Takes a Heavy Toll on Women

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Hundreds of women, whose husbands have been arrested in cases related to child marriages, are struggling with their lives, losing their babies and some of them are committing suicide

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — The massive crackdown launched by Himanata Biswa Sarma government in Assam on “child marriages” is taking a heavy toll on women whose sole breadwinners were put behind the bars. Hundreds of women, whose husbands have been arrested in cases related to child marriages, are struggling with their lives and losing their babies. Some women reportedly have committed suicide as well.

Twenty-year-old Chandani, who is from Assam’s Baksa and the mother of a baby girl, is struggling for her very survival as her husband and father-in-law were arrested on Friday.

“We have no savings. The two (husband and father-in-law) used to sell vegetables every day and get money home. I don’t know how we will survive without them,” Chandni was quoted saying by The Quint.

The government has arrested around 2,500 people and booked over 4,000 persons in these cases. They are said to be booked under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

Chandani got married to Tabrez Alam in 2020 when she was under 18. She is originally from Bihar’s Motihari and her father is a laborer. She became a mother only weeks ago and was happy with her family.

“I love my husband very much. He has never treated me badly, and doesn’t misbehave or force me to do anything. He would often buy sweets for me and bring them home in the evening, because I like them. We have been very happy in the marriage,” she was quoted as saying.

The government crackdown is facing flak from several quarters for its faulty and sudden implementation of the law. The government is also accused of targeting minorities in the name of child marriages.   

The Fraternity Movement, a national student group, described the government’s actions as ‘whimsical’ and ‘counterproductive’.

“This is nothing more than an extension of the Assam government’s targeted attack on marginalised communities. Be it the bulldozing in different parts of the country, mass eviction drives, anti-conversion laws: selective enforcement of certain laws has become the new method of state oppression,” said the group.

It urged the government to take innovative and productive measures like spreading awareness and improving the living conditions of girl children instead of criminalising and targeting marginalised communities. It demanded to quash all FIR registered in this regard.

It’s not just Chandani who is suffering from the aftermath of the crackdown and imprisonment of her breadwinners.

Sweety Namasudra, 26 and a resident of Karimganj, lost her two-month-old baby while she was running from pillar to post as her father-in-law was arrested. The police arrested her sick father-in-law in the absence of her husband. According to her, her father-in-law was suffering from a serious illness. She told the police about it and the police let him off after examining the documents. However, she ran from one place to another for his release along with her baby. When she returned home, she found that the baby was suffering from a fever. She took the baby to a local hospital where the doctor declared it dead.

There were also reports of suicide in Assam’s South-Salamara Mancachar district by a widow. A mother of two, she feared her parents’ arrest by the police. 

In another heart-wrenching case, a 16-year-old soon-to-be-married girl committed suicide in Cachar District’s Dholai. She was in love with a 21-year-old man. According to her mother, before the government crackdown, she threatened to elope if she were not allowed an arranged marriage.

“She read the news on social media and it disturbed her completely. She told me that now she cannot even elope with her boyfriend, as they would arrest him then,” The Quint quoted the distressed mother, Alimun Nissa, as saying.

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