Guwahati: At least 1,800 people were arrested on Friday in Assam in a massive statewide crackdown against child marriages. The arrests which began on Thursday night were continuing and the numbers were likely to go up drastically.
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma taking to the tweeter wrote: “Statewide arrests are presently underway against those violating provisions of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. 1800 + have been arrested so far. I have asked @assampolice to act with a spirit of zero tolerance against the unpardonable and heinous crime on women.”
On Thursday, Sarma said that the state government has launched its war against child marriage with an aim to wipe out the ‘social evil’ by 2026. He also apprehended that over 50,000 child marriages were happening in the state annually leading to a rise in maternal mortality and infant mortality rate.
Within the last 10 days, over 5000 cases of child marriages were registered across the state.
According to the official statistics, the total number of cases against child marriage registered in the police districts till Thursday were-Bajali 132, Baksa 153, Barpeta 81, Biswanath 98, Bongaigaon 123, Cachar 35, Charaideo 78, Chirrang 54, Guwahati Commissionerate 192, Darrang 125, Dhemaji 101, Dhubri 370, Dibrugarh 75, Dima Hasao 24, Goalpara 157, Golaghat 62, Hailakandi 1, Hamren 15, Hojai 255, Jorhat 25, Kamrup 80, Karbi-Anglong 126, Karimganj 92, Kokrajhar 204, Lakhimpur 32, Majuli 44, Morigaon 224, Nagaon 113, Nalbari 171, Sadiya 85, Sivsagar 54, Sonitpur 60, South Salmara 145, Tamulpur 110, Tinsukia 73 and Udalguri 235.
While arrests mostly included the husbands of minor girls, several Qazis, Imams and Pundits were also picked up for solemnizing child marriages illegally. Even in the capital city of Guwahati, the city police commissionerate held some 53 people for allegedly being involved in child marriages.
Sarma earlier said that all the husbands who have impregnated minor girls would be booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.
However, the move came under severe criticism from the family members of the accused persons. Even the minor wives have complained that their husbands were innocent.
“What will I do now? Since my husband and father are arrested as per CM sir’s order who will take care of me now? I ask the chief minister either to release my husband or put me behind the bars too as I was the one who insisted on marriage even when I was a minor,” said a minor wife from Nagaon.
Similar reactions were also recorded from various other parts of the state. On the other hand, Sarma said that the state government has been already working on the rehabilitation of such victims of child marriages and is likely to put them under its flagship program of the ‘Orunodoi’ scheme. Under ‘Orunodoi’, monetary benefits have been envisaged for women in the family and a sum of Rs 1200 was being transferred to the beneficiaries monthly.
Meanwhile, senior Congress MP Abdul Khaleque while welcoming the move asked the chief minister to also hold the government officials responsible for not acting on such a huge menace for years. “If a Qazi or Pundit has solemnized such an illegal marriage, there is a possibility that the district administration of that village is also likely to be in nexus and intentionally overlooking the issue. Such officers and policemen also needed to be booked for not performing their jobs properly instead of the husbands and Qazis,” Khaleque demanded.