Police Came Knocking At 2 AM: Assams Crackdown On Child Marriages Leave Women & Families In Dark

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The Logical Indian Crew

'Police Came Knocking At 2 AM': Assam's Crackdown On Child Marriages Leave Women & Families In Dark

Many households in Assam now have a sense of fear and insecurity brooding over their futures with the police arresting the male members of the houses. Among the affected families running around for their husband's bail include child brides who have newly become mothers.

Since the Cabinet's announcement on January 23 to take stringent measures against child rights violators, the police registered thousands of cases within a week. In a startling statewide crackdown on child marriages, Assam saw over 2,258 people being arrested under the crime on February 4. Those detained include several Hindu and Muslim priests who conducted the weddings, and the police actively continue their hunt to arrest all the 8,000 accused on their list. While the move has come across as a strong statement against child marriages, it has brought the state's women to the streets in protest against the arrests.

Stories Of Despair And Fear

Nimee (name changed) enters the new motherhood stage with a sense of despair as her husband is among the thousands arrested in the statewide crackdown. Several households in the state now have a sense of fear, insecurity, and foreboding looming over them, with the future of their families unknown. Like Nimee, the state is home to several child brides who will be left in the dark with the arrest of their husbands and fathers.

Talking about the night when everything came crashing down, Nimee said that the police officers had knocked on their door around 2 am and taken away her husband. The 17-year-old had eloped with Gopal Biswas a year back and are now parents to a one-and-half-month-old. Gopal is in his twenties and is the sole breadwinner of the family. He used to earn a small amount by selling snacks and savouries at the village square.

Out of the meagre amount earned every day, they are barely able to feed their family. Throwing light on the family's plight, Gopal's elder brother Yudishter says, "we barely earn enough to feed our own families. Who will look after Nimee and her son? She has been inconsolable, barely eating anything. The child is also getting sick now."

Meanwhile, some other families in the state are suffering the brunt of the crackdown due to errors in documentation. Rezina's son Rajibul Hussain was arrested due to wrong information on his wife's Aadhar card. Rezina claims, "My daughter-in-law is not underage, but there was some error in her Aadhaar card, due to which my son is now behind bars." She added that the daughter-in-law has now gone to her native place, some distance away, to get her birth records.

Many other families are also arguing that their brides were actually not minors at the time of the marriage, but their details were wrongly processed in the Aadhaar cards. The police officials mostly took data on the age via local health workers, who have the information based on the Aadhar. Families are now rushing around to find the original birth records of the women in the house so their husbands can get bail.

Then there are women and new mothers with no other family apart from their husbands, making their entire future bleak. A report by NDTV quoted 16-year-old Riya saying, "We don't have any other family as we had eloped and got married. Where will I go with my one-year-old daughter from here?" The new mother and her child are temporarily residing at a government-run shelter home following her husband's arrest. Another inmate Rupa Das, also 16 years old and nine months pregnant, share the same woes and requests the officials to set her husband free. Unlike other families, their lives continue to seem uncertain as they have no proper channel or awareness of where to seek help and support from.

A Poorly Executed Decision

Helping out women like Riya and Rupa, there are a few organisations and people like Parimita Deka, a gender specialist at the state's Social Welfare Department. In her opinion, "the drive against child marriage is very welcome. But we also have a responsibility towards these women now." The move was much-needed but poorly executed as it did not take into consideration the stakeholders of child marriages - the women. Deka conveyed this idea by stating that the affected people are children themselves, which requires the state to handle such cases with sensitivity to secure their future.

Meanwhile, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has stated that the drive against child marriages will continue till the next assembly elections in 2026. Child marriages are rampant in the state, and those involved are mostly aware of the laws prohibiting it. Talking about the unexpected move, Yudishter said, "We knew there was some kind of law, but it was never implemented. Government should have warned us that there is such strict action for any lapse, and we would have been careful."

Building on this idea, a local businessman, Umar Ali, conveyed that several organisations have attempted to create awareness regarding child marriages, but it did not suffice many times. Assam continued to have a high maternal and infant mortality rate, contributed by a large number of child marriages. According to a National Family Health Survey, an average of 31 per cent of marriages registered in the state were in the prohibited age group.

Also Read: Question Of Survival: Assam Women Take To Streets As Police Arrest Over 4,000 In Child Marriage Cases

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Writer : Laxmi Mohan Kumar
Editor : Jayali Wavhal
Creatives : Laxmi Mohan Kumar

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