Child Marriages: Gauhati High Court’s Observations Come As Big Relief For Victims


As many tribes are getting affected by the ‘weird’ action against child marriages, it is now backfiring on the state government as the non-Muslim tribes have begun protesting against the government.

Sami Ahmad

GUWAHATI—Gauhati High Court’s strong observations about Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s so-called ‘crackdown against child marriage’ on February 14 has come as a great reprieve for the victims of this ‘weird’ action. However, the fear is still around as the government has done just nothing to address their concerns.

 During the last two weeks, more than 3000 people, including women, have been arrested in this ‘crackdown, and the victims are finding it tough to arrange lawyers for their bail while it is also being reported that this ‘crackdown’ is being used to settle old scores.

 Mr. Sarma has said a ‘rehabilitation policy’ would be announced in 15 days which is a glaring example of how whimsical this ‘crackdown’ is. 

While he was on a tweet spree about this ‘crackdown’ but has gone silent since the observation made by the Gauhati High Court. In fact, he is now trying to find a positive side of this action which the court said was ‘causing havoc in the private life of people’.

 Trying to justify his ‘crackdown’, he tweeted on Friday, “Reports are coming from various parts of Assam that several families have cancelled pre-scheduled marriages between underage children after our drive against such illegal practices. This is definitely a positive impact of our two-week-long crackdown against child marriage.”

 On February 14, Mr. Sarma tweeted an article published in the RSS Hindi mouthpiece Panchjanya by Priyank Kanoongo, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. In this article, Mr. Kanoongo heaped praises on Mr. Sarma without mentioning the hardships faced by the wives and mothers of those who were arrested under this so-called crackdown. The cover page was captioned ‘Masum Bachchiyon Ke Himanta Chaha’. The headline of the article “Ab Bachchiyan Duayen De Rahi Hongi’ tried to suggest that the underage Muslim girls who feared child marriage must be thanking Mr. Himanta. This confirmed the allegation that Mr. Sarma’s ‘crackdown’ was aimed at targeting the Muslim community.

 On February 13, Mr. Sarma wrote, “Our crackdown against child marriage has entered its second week with 3,015 arrests made so far. The drive against this social evil will continue. The positive side is that now people are coming out and surrendering before the police.”

 On February 9 he wrote that Assam Cabinet complimented @assampolice for its campaign against child marriage and further directed it to continue with the clampdown. The Cabinet also constituted a Cabinet Sub-Committee to finalize a Rehabilitation Policy within 15 days for victims of child marriage.

 Abdur Rehman, a social activist and journalist, told that people were arrested as dreaded criminals while they were ordinary, hard-working people. “They might have violated the child marriage act due to ignorance, but how can it be justified to put the families in tough times by sending the bread earner to jail? Arranging advocate is not affordable for them, but they are forced to do that.”

 Abdur Rehman’s concerns are echoed in the Gauhati High Court’s observation made while granting bail to an accused under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, read with the POCSO Act. 

The bench of Justice Suman Shyam said, “If marriage is taking place in violation of the law, the law will take its own course. These cases have been happening for a long time. We will only consider if immediate custodial interrogation is required or not. At this moment, this court thinks that these are not matters for custodial interrogation. We will ask them to appear and record their statements. These are not NDPS, smuggling, stolen property cases.”

 The court also took strong exception to the slapping of the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses) act. It is generally believed that POCSO was slapped to deprive any room to the Muslim men who might have wed a girl as allowed in Muslim Personal Law, under which the minimum age of marriage is above 15. The court observed, “POCSO, you can add anything. What is the POCSO here? Because POCSO is added, does it mean judges will not see what is there?… We are not acquitting anyone here. No one is preventing you from probing.”

 Senior advocate of Gauhati High Court Hafiz Rashid Ahmad Choudhary told that POCSO should never be applied as it is under consideration in the Supreme court.

 The court also remarked, “These are not matters for custodial interrogation. You (the state) proceed as per law, and file a chargesheet; if convicted, they are sentenced. It is causing havoc in the private life of people; there are children, family members, and older people. “

 The bench asked the state why Section 376 IPC was added to the case. “Is there any allegation of rape here?”

 All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) general secretary Hasina Ahmed told that the court observation had helped the victims in getting bail, but the police have still not stopped harassing people. She said, “This so-called crackdown has become a tool for the police to extort money from the already frightened people. Many cases are being reported where a neighbour is passing on false claims of underage marriage to settle old scores. “

 Abdur Rehman quoted the case reported by Asomiya Pratidin on February 16, 2023.

 According to this report, Gogamukh police sent an innocent youth, Rajdip Daley of Bardaloni Lotak village under Gogamukh police station in Dhemaji district, to jail under the child marriage act registering an FIR no. 30/2023 in Gogamukh police station. Doley was alleged to have married Binita Mising (16), a minor girl. Police, in its report, stated that Doley married Binita without the family’s consent. The fact is that Doley socially married another girl Krishnamoni Doley, an 18-year-old daughter of Toniram Doley of Dhakuakhana in Lakhimpur district in September 2021. This false and baseless case was registered on February 9, 2023. It is to be mentioned that Binita is entirely unknown to Rajdhip.

 Despite court observation, the government is not relenting, and poor people continue to suffer. Advocate Rashid said that people are so poor that they cannot foot the bill of the High Court’s advocate, so much so that it is the advocates who are helping them financially.

 AAMSU general secretary said this ‘crackdown’ is backfiring on the government itself as many victims are from the tea tribes. She said that Mr. Sarma’s target was Muslims, but it has affected this tribe equally, and Mr. Sarma now faces a backlash from them.


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