Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Wednesday said his government tried to ensure that the controversial crack down against child marriage in Assam last month was not communal, and that nearly an equal proportion of Muslims and Hindus were arrested. Taking part in the budget session of the Assam legislative assembly, he also said such crackdown would take place every six month, and that the state government is aiming to eradicate child marriage by 2026.
He said that the ratio of arrests of Muslims to Hindus since the February 3 crackdown is 55:45.
“I have got some of our people picked up too because you (opposition members) all will feel bad. The ratio of arrests of Muslims to Hindus since the February 3 crackdown is 55:45,” Mr Sarma said during his reply to a discussion on Vote Of Thanks on the Governor’s speech in the state assembly.
The Chief Minister said people ‘are crying for criminals’ but not crying for 11-year-old girls who get impregnated.
“The NFHS 5 (National Family Health Survey) data shows that the problem is highest in Dhubri and South Salmara (Muslim-majority districts). Not Dibrugarh and Tinsukia. But because you communalise every single thing, I told the Dibrugarh Superintendent of Police to pick up a few from there as well. NFHS 4 data collated during Congress times also shows that the highest number of underage marriages and childbirths is done in lower Assam districts (which has a higher Muslim population),” Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
Citing National Health Mission data, he claimed more cases of child marriages are from South Salmara and Dhubri, but he asked the Dibrugarh SP to pick up two-three from the district as well “since it is being communalised”.
Opposition parties have protested the BJP-led government slapping the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA) and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) on those accused of conducting child marriages. Congress MLA Abdur Rashid Mandal recently alleged in the assembly that the Assam government is “terrorising” people using the two acts.
Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia had said slapping of POCSO and rape cases on child marriage accused have created disturbances in the society with many old people getting arrested.
In a query by Independent MLA Akhil Gogoi, the Assam Chief Minister informed the assembly on Monday that 4,111 incidents of child marriage took place in the state from April 2021 to February 2023.
“A total of 4,670 cases have been registered naming 7,142 accused. Already 3,483 persons have been arrested, of which 1,182 are in jail, 2,253 have got bail and notices have been issued to 48 others,” he added.
Mr Sarma also informed the legislators that the government has not taken any step to take responsibility for the children born out of child marriages, but said steps will be initiated if any child requires care and security.