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Himanta Biswa Sarma’s crackdown on child marriages – the CM’s Raja Rammohan Roy avatar is on a mission but with the wrong measures

By Shaqib Javed Chowdhury

More than 4,000 FIRs and around 2,500 arrests, Assam’s Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, has embarked on a journey with noble intentions to eradicate the social evil – of child marriage from Assam’s society. While the mission is important, the route Himanta Biswa Sarma opted for to reform is obsolete – sudden mass arrest will not resolve this age-old problem. The roots of this fashion lie in the mindset of the human, and it is very important to address the root cause instead of mass arrests. 

Coming to the Assam government’s action to bring down this parochial fashion, it is important to know that Assam lacks several indexes of women empowerment. According to the National Health Family Survey-5, conducted by the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, says that about 16 percent of the girls in the age group of 15 – 19 are married at present. The survey also says that around 32 percent of women in Assam get married before the legal minimum age – which is higher than the national average of 25 percent. 

More than 20 percent of women in the age group of 15 – 19 years have not been to school and started childbearing. The gravest concern is Assam’s worst Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) in the country. Also, the 2011 census states that 44 percent of women in Assam are being married before the age of 18.

It is the need-of-the hour to address this issue with the right measures and curb the ancient tradition to a good extent.

Educating and campaigning are the way forward. 

Without an iota of doubt, child marriage is an obnoxious social practice that needs to stamp out from the society. Child marriages give birth to gender inequality in society. It also bars girls from education and political rights. Apart from all the political and social opportunities, it also jeopardizes the health of a minor girl – adolescent pregnancies are one of the gravest concerns of child marriages. 

The government’s action is rational, but the measures are problematic. Instead of arresting, the CM of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, has to adopt the campaigning style of Mohan Bhargav from the movie Swades – Mohan Bhargav is the protagonist of the film ‘Swades’ played by Shah Rukh Khan. 

In the film, we can see that Mohan is doing a door-to-door campaign and creating awareness about the importance of girls’ education. And, in the end, he gets success and the parents start sending their girls to the schools.

While Mohan is an aam admi and did his best for beti baacho,beeti padho campaign, and enjoyed success. But, in Assam’s context, Himanta Biswa Sama is our hero and has all the powers that a larger-than-life Bollywood hero possesses. The CM should utilize these powers to initiate a mass awareness campaign across the state. 

In an old interview, the Chief Minister conceded that the problem with child marriage lies in the mindset, and this can be cured with education. 

Severe punishments will not act as a deterrence  

Severe punishment has a very less success ratio across the world. Modern international laws and conventions like the UN Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (1962), and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) strive to stipulate a minimum legal age for marriage. India has The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 which suggests a minimum legal age of marriage. But the law doesn’t override the Muslim Personal Law.

The critics of this crackdown allege that action is biased towards a single community. And the government is dodging all the allegations and staying adamant about its action. 

There are allegations that child marriage among Muslims in Assam is the highest as compared to the other communities in the state. If in Assam, child marriages amongst Muslims are higher then the government should prioritize the education of Muslim women. Investment in creating awareness doesn’t go in vain, as we can see in the period between 2000-2010, the government invested in women’s education and public messaging has brought down the percentage of child marriages from 47 percent to 30 percent. 

But the main worry remains about the minimum legal age of marriage of Muslim women. Earlier many High Courts upheld the Personal Law’s age limit. An appeal was admitted by the National Commission for Protection for Child Rights (NCPCR) in the matter of deciding a minimum legal age for Muslim women.

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