Crackdown on child marriage, proposed law to end polygamy Assam's major highlights in 2023

11:06 AM Dec 23, 2023 | PTI |

A crackdown on child marriage with most arrests made in minority-dominated districts, an initiative to enact a law in the assembly to end the practice of polygamy and a socio-economic survey of five indigenous Muslim communities dominated the headlines in Assam in 2023.


Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s initiatives kept him in the limelight, with him being the key campaigner for the BJP in the states that went to elections, as he pushed the party’s core political agenda emphatically while continuing to consolidate its base among the majority indigenous population in his state.

The Assam government’s crackdown, in two phases, on child marriage in February and October led to nearly 5,500 arrests, mostly in districts dominated by the minority community, with Sarma claiming that the social menace would be completely eliminated by 2026 and all gram panchayat secretaries would be designated as child marriage prevention officers.

Opposition parties, however, maintained that child marriage cannot be forcibly stopped by police intervention but would need a sustained campaign, involving all stakeholders.

Sarma asserted that maternal mortalities have decreased by over 33 per cent and child deaths by nearly 15 per cent in the state since the launch of the crackdown.


The state government also planned to bring a law to ban the practice of polygamy among Muslims as during the crackdown, it was found that many elderly men had married multiple times and their wives were mostly young women belonging to the poorer sections of the society.

Asserting that child marriage cannot be tackled completely unless there was a ban on polygamy, the government constituted a four-member expert committee of legal luminaries to scrutinise the legality of banning polygamy in the state by the assembly.

The committee scrutinised the provisions of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Act, 1937 along with Article 25 of the Constitution in relation to the Directive Principles of State Policy for a Uniform Civil Code.

The panel unanimously agreed that the state can frame its own laws to end polygamy but the assent on the Bill has to be given by the President instead of the governor, who usually gives the final signature on state laws.

The opposition parties, however, slammed the government’s plans to enact a law on polygamy, describing it as a diversionary and communal move and alleged that the ruling BJP was carrying forward its agenda against the minority community.

The chief minister, on the other hand, countered the opposition’s allegations, stating that it is his government that has taken steps to improve the conditions of Muslims from both indigenous Assamese and Bengali-speaking communities.

He said that as a first step, a socio-economic survey of the state’s five indigenous Muslim communities — Goria, Moria, Deshi, Syed and Jolha — will be conducted and its findings will guide the state government to take suitable measures for the comprehensive socio-political and educational uplift of the indigenous minorities.

Sarma said that for the remaining Muslims of migrant-origin, the state government has also taken steps to stop child marriage, along with setting up new schools, colleges and health institutions and improved connectivity to their habitations, besides ensuring electrification.

Another major development in the state during the year was the delimitation exercise carried out by the Election Commission of India, based on the 2001 Census, with the final report published on August 11, keeping intact the number of assembly constituencies at 126 and Lok Sabha seats at 14, while revising the nomenclature of one parliamentary and 19 assembly constituencies.

Altogether 19 assembly and two Lok Sabha constituencies have been reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs), while one Lok Sabha and nine assembly constituencies have been reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs).

Sarma claimed that the insurgency problem in the state was ”almost finished” with the signing of peace accords with different militant outfits dominated by Bodo, Karbi and Dimasa tribes along with different Adivasi organisations while talks were also in progress with the pro-peace faction of ULFA and Kuki and Hmar groups.

The chief minister had sent out an olive branch to the anti-talk ULFA (Independent) faction on assuming office and the outfit responded by declaring a ceasefire, but recently it carried out three blasts in Tinsukia, Sivasagar and Jorhat which the insurgent group claimed was in response to the ”arrogant” attitude of Director General of Police G P Singh.

Sarma said that with the return of peace, stringent laws such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA are being gradually withdrawn and are now in force in only four districts, namely Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo and Sivasagar.

Assam, however, faced security concerns with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar reportedly using the state as a corridor to either go to Delhi or Jammu and Kashmir with the help of some brokers from Tripura. The Assam Police have arrested several persons, including a few Bangladesh nationals, for allegedly facilitating the movement of the Rohingyas.

Meanwhile, the crime rate in the state has decreased considerably with the total number of cognisable offences dipping by 48.26 per cent to nearly 69,000 cases in 2022, according to the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

Sarma claimed that strong and non-compromising policing along with development activities and providing jobs to the youth helped reduce the crime graph.

The state also created two Guinness World Records with over 11,304 dancers and drummers performing in the category of largest recital of Bihu dance and playing of ‘Bihu dhol’ at a single venue, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi also witnessing the performance.

The Assam government also received nine Guinness World Records certificates for a mega plantation drive in September and October under the ‘Amrit Brikshya Andolan’ campaign, with a total of 1,11,17,781 seedlings of commercially valuable tree species planted across the state on a single day on September 17.


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