Mass Arrests From Child Marriage Crackdown Trigger Indian Women to Protest

After a crackdown in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam that saw more than 2,400 people arrested since February 3rd, hundreds of women have protested against the measure initiated by the Assam state government.

The men arrested by Assam authorities include husbands and relatives of the alleged child brides, along with the priests who conducted the marriages. According to Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the government received police reports regarding child marriages that have named more than 8,100 people. He also told the authorities to act with "zero tolerance.

Although it’s illegal for girls under 18 to marry in India, the practice persists in many parts of the country due to poverty and patriarchal traditions. Government data reports that more than two out of every ten girls are married before they turn 18.

The Indian Parliament is considering passing a bill to raise the minimum marriage age for women in the country to 21. However, there are exceptions for Muslims in the country, who mostly get married under Islamic personal law.

Among Indian Muslims, girls can marry once they reach puberty. India’s National Commission for Women has already asked the Supreme Court to make the marriage age for Muslim women on par with other religions.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, to which Narendra Modi and Himanta Biswa Sarma belong, has long pushed for a uniform civil code that will apply to all Indian citizens.

Since arrests started on February 3rd, the female relatives of the apprehended men have been gathering outside police stations to protest against the action. The women said the men arrested by authorities were primary breadwinners for their families, and they were completely dependent on them.

Although the government tried reassuring them by promising financial assistance to the affected women, many are still fearful for what’s to come.

"I am worried about how I'm going to look after my child," a woman told the Indian Express.

"My husband works in the fields, and I'm completely dependent on him," another woman said, adding that she doesn’t know how to seek legal help since she only had primary education.

The Times of India reported incidents of police in the Dhubri district dispersing protesters with tear gas and beating them.

Authorities have used the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act to justify arresting the men accused of marrying girls below 14 years of age. The punishment for those found guilty ranges from seven years in prison to a life sentence with no possibility of bail.

But those who married girls between 14 and 18 could be charged for violating the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of two years and a fine of 100,000 Indian rupees or $1,213.

Opposition leaders have denounced the measure, saying it is a "farce” that disproportionately affects Muslims and makes life for ordinary people even harder. Leader of the Trinamool Congress Party, Ripun Bora, described the clampdown as "whimsical" and argued that the government was misusing the law.

Another lawmaker from the party, Gaurav Gogoi, described the crackdown as a "[public relations] exercise,” stating that authorities have been looking into cases that were "decades-old without proper inquiry or adherence to procedure."

But chief minister Sarma defended the move, saying that his administration’s "war" is against child marriage and doesn’t target a single community. He also said that "one generation will have to suffer" to save thousands of girls from child marriages in the future last week when the crackdown began.

He also said the crackdown on child marriages will continue until the next state elections in 2026.

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