Assam Govt Accused of Targeting Muslims amid Massive Crackdown on ‘Child Marriages’

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Pushing aside the criticism, the state government led by Chief Minister Himanata Biswa Sarma has vowed to continue the crackdown after arresting about 2,500 people and filing 4,074 cases. Sarma, who often faces flak for being biased against minorities, has been accused of targeting minorities in the crackdown

Waquar Hasan | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – The massive crackdown on ‘child marriages’ launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Assam has come in for severe criticism from legal luminaries, political leaders and social media users who are questioning the government’s real intent.

They are putting the state government in the dock with regard to legal and humanitarian aspects behind the arrest of over 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, and cases filed in the matter.

Pushing aside the criticism, the state government led by Chief Minister Himanata Biswa Sarma has vowed to continue the crackdown after arresting about 2,500 people and filing 4,074 cases. Sarma, who often faces flak for being biased against minorities, has been accused of targeting minorities in the crackdown.

Questioning the government’s actions, Junaid Khalid, an advocate based in Guwahati, told Clarion India that these arrests are being made without framing rules and regulations.

“Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 is a Central act. But no rules were framed by the state government as to how this act could be implemented in Assam. These arrests are being made without any rules. The act has a provision to appoint an officer by the state government to stop child marriages. In this regard also, the government has nothing to show how officers were appointed, in how many districts and how many marriages they have stopped,” Khalid said.

The government is making arrests under the Child Marriage Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (PCSO). Those who are married to 14-18 girls will be tried under the Child Marriage Act while those who are married for 14 years will be booked under the PCSO.

Khalid pointed out that the biggest problem with the government crackdown is that they have arrested the men. “Now who will take care of their families?”

The government is talking of a scheme under which they will give Rs 1,200 and 5 kg of rice to the affected families.

Many hapless women have protested at police stations after their men were arrested. Hundreds of anguished women were seen expressing their helplessness, frustration and anger before some top officials.

“I am worried. How I’m going to look after my child?” a disheartened woman was quoted by The Indian Express newspaper as asking.

“My husband works in the fields and I’m completely dependent on him,” said another, adding that she only had basic primary education and didn’t know how to access legal help.

Advocate Khalid said: “There is no clear-cut plan on the part of the government with regard to these women. Who will accept them in society? Two people have already committed suicide. The act has its own significance but rules were not framed to implement the act.”

It is widely believed that a major part of the crackdown was conducted in the Muslim-dominated districts in Assam.

Asaduddin Owaisi, President of AIMIM and Hyderabad MP, slammed the state government and termed the crackdown as a “malicious motive behind all the action that is being taken”.

“As you know the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was passed in 2006, and it is the BJP’s government which is in power in Assam for the last six years. Now, why did the government not stop all these in the last six years? This really shows the failure of their governance. Experts have said that if you want to stop child marriages, you have to open a lot of schools, (but) you have not done that. You have closed down the madrassas too which were imparting some form of education,” he said.

Several social media users also castigated the state government’s move. People married for years are being harassed and arrested, they claimed. “If the men are arrested, then where will their wives and children go?” asked a Twitterati.

Some even suggested that a large part of the arrested men belong to the Muslim community. They said the crackdown was part of the larger government scheme to demonise and harass Muslims. 

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Sarma said that the crackdown will continue until the government fulfils its objective.

“Our drive against child marriage is for public health and public welfare as the teenage pregnancy ratio in Assam is quite alarming – 16.8%. We’re resolved to continue this drive until we fulfil our objective. I urge the people to cooperate with us in controlling this harmful trend,” he tweeted. 

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