The Assam Police on Friday arrested 2,000 persons from all over the state for allegedly marrying girls under the age of 18 and booked them under the POCSO Act and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act as part of a significant statewide crackdown on child marriages.
Speaking to the media about the crackdown, Assam DGP G P Singh revealed that Biswanath district had made the most arrests thus far (137), followed by Dhubri (126), Baksa (120), and Barpeta (114). Each of the districts of Nagaon, Kokrajhar, and Hojai has seen over 90 arrests. At least three of the most arrest-heavy districts—Dhubri and Barpeta in Lower Assam and Nagaon in Central Assam—have a preponderance of minorities.
Police claimed they were still compiling the profiles of people who had been detained. Only guys older than 18 have been arrested thus far, according to officials from at least two districts, who spoke to The Indian Express.
The police action comes in response to Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s declaration on January 23 that the state would begin a statewide campaign against child marriages. According to him, men who marry girls younger than 14 will be prosecuted under the POCSO Act, but those who marry girls between 14 and 18 will be prosecuted under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. Police have since reported 4,074 instances throughout the state.
“Of two months ago, the Chief Minister of Assam gave the Assam Police instructions that there was information about widespread child marriage in different sections of the state. He had given us the go-ahead to look into this,” said DGP Singh. He claimed that district SPs were asked to contact village chiefs, government officials, and local leaders to solicit their support for the campaign.
“At first, we gathered the information for 2022, 2021, and 2020. We registered 4,074 cases throughout Assam’s districts during the past two days based on specific inputs from which cognizable cases could be drawn out,” he said.
Together, the 4,074 FIRs implicate about 8,000 persons. 52 religious leaders who are accused of officiating these marriages were among the 2,044 persons who had been detained as of 3 p.m. on Friday, according to DGP Singh.
“The mullahs, Qazis, and pujaris who support these unions will be our main targets,” CM Sarma stated on Thursday, the day before the drive was to begin. Additionally, he stated that women whose husbands are in jail would be included in the government’s Orunodoi programme for financially disadvantaged women.
Although there may be some resistance from specific families, a senior Congress leader claimed that “nobody wants to be seen pushing child weddings” therefore there is “not expected to be any organised opposition” to the campaign.
While acknowledging that the action may have some “technical challenges,” Imtiaz Hussain, general secretary of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union, which has been fighting against child marriage for years, asserted that “no social or political organisation will resist this.”