The crackdown on child marriage in Assam continued on Monday, with the number of arrests totaling 2,441 so far, according to Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The arrests have been made based on 4,074 FIRs filed across the state, the officials said.
The state-wide crackdown announced by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma began on Friday and will continue for the next six days. So far, 2,257 people have been arrested.
As police continued arrests even on Sunday, young women, some with their babies in arms, some pregnant, stood outside police stations for hours crying inconsolably seeking release of their husbands. “Why take only the men? How will we and or our children survive? We have no means of income,” a 55-year-old Niroda Doley of Majuli district told PTI.
Protests have been held at different places in the Barak Valley against the crackdown. Questioning the motive behind the crackdown, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said that the Assam government should have concentrated on increasing literacy levels if it was actually seized of the problem of child marriage.
On Saturday, police had to lathi charge and fire tear gas shells to disperse a crowd of women and their relatives who staged a protest outside Tamarhat police station in Dhubri district seeking immediate release of their husbands. The arrests have been made as part of BJP-led government’s “crackdown” on child marriage, a major reason behind high rate of maternal mortality and infant mortality. More than 50 among those arrested are kazis and priests, who performed the rituals of such marriages, police said.
Assam Congress president Bhupen Bora said a humane approach was needed in dealing with the issue. “We are opposed to child marriage. But what will be the benefit of disrupting settled families, with grown up children? It is nothing but a publicity stunt,” he said.
The state cabinet had recently approved a proposal to book men who have married girls below 14 years of age under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Cases under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 will be registered against those who have married girls in the 14-18 years’ age group, the cabinet decided.
The offenders will be arrested and the marriages declared illegal. If the groom is below 14 years of age, he will be sent to a reform house. Assam has a high rate of maternal and infant mortality, with child marriage being the primary cause as an average of 31 per cent of marriages registered in the state are in the prohibited age.
CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said he has directed the police to act with a ”spirit of zero tolerance against the unpardonable and heinous crime on women”.