‘A Humanitarian Crisis Unfolding in Assam; Big Boss Is Watching It Quietly’
Nazimuddin Siddique from Assam feels that arrests in the name of child marriages are an extension of the NRC to enforce a tactical eviction of Muslims from the state
Child marriage is a long-standing problem in Assam. No right-thinking person can support this social malaise. But the question is: how do you stop it. Assam is one of the poorest states in the country. Child marriage exists here due to poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness, and social exclusion. The solution to such social practices is long-winding but this government wants a quick and surgical remedy, with use of brutal force.
The state is making arrests of the alleged child marriage violators even when these persons married years ago and now have families to feed. They are arresting the sole breadwinners of such families. Will that be stemming a malaise or causing additional miseries on poor families? I do not have the data but child marriage is prevalent across all communities in Assam. The government could not stop child marriages when it took place; but it is punishing the people for its own failure. Do they even realize the scale of the underlying humanitarian disaster? Over 4,000 people have already been arrested. Where will it stop?
Many believe, and not without reason, that this is just another tool to harass Muslim electorate of Assam. This is not the first time when a legal instrument is being implied to target Muslims, be it the NRC (National Register of Citizen) or eviction drives. The government which is duty bound to look after the welfare of its citizens, is rendering them homeless and selectively so. (Read APCR report on Assam clampdown here)
Many Hindus were also arrested but the scale of arrests is tilted in favour of Muslims. Reports also suggest that Hindus arrested under the provision usually get bail. The way you can violate the human rights of Muslims, you can’t do with Hindus.
Arresting a Muslim is the easiest thing in India nowadays. Civil society among Hindus is vocal. Surprisingly and unfortunately they remain silent, by and large, when it comes to the rights violation of Muslims. Muslims in Assam are systematically facing evictions, encounters, NRC, doubtful voter, and now child marriage crackdown. It is heart-wrenching.
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I feel the judiciary needs to step in and put an end to such injustice. As per reports, Assam recorded 161 incidents of police action in the first 13 months of CM Himanta Biswa Sarma taking charge in May 2021. These incidents resulted in the death of 51 people while 139 others were injured. Numbers came down when the court interfered.
I am thankful to Gauhati High Court for its intervention in child marriage arrests too. The HC come down heavily on the Assam government for slapping laws such as POCSO against the accused of child marriage cases. It looks like the judiciary is the only way out for the oppressed now. But we all know the process itself is the punishment. Our Constitution guarantees the right to equality and life with dignity. If the government fails to do that, then the judiciary must hold the government of the day for its failure.
I am also disappointed at the apathy of the Centre in this episode. Himanta Biswa Sarma can go to any length in targeting Muslims. He does not need any sanctions from the Centre. We know how will the Central leadership act or react. The Big Boss in Delhi is watching the humanitarian disaster unfold right before his eyes, but won’t bat an eyelid.
The narrator is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Nagaland University
As told to Abhishek Srivastava