Tyranny in legal garb

in jail

At this very moment a hideously frightening yet absurd antic is going on in Assam in the name of law.Of course we are getting blase about Hindutva forces in and out of government staging all kinds of ludicrous drama,like the RSS (in a recent issue of The ORGANISER,official organ of the RSS) coming out blazing all guns in support of Adani with the plea that the attack on Adani is no less than an attack on India,on behalf of China to boot.Now the old frayed phrase about ‘India being Indira’ has been rejigged as ‘India is Adani’.Youths are advised to embrace cows in stead of the young women of their love and commanded to enjoy the same bliss. Meanwhile Rahul Gandhi’s bold attack on the Prime Minister could be deflected by the latter with a joke thanks to his overt stress on the direct link between Adani’s meteoric rise and the PM,a connection yet to be established,though the association is certainly suspect.In my humble opinion the demand should be for inquiry on Adani’s improbable unprecedented rise.Of course the PM’s equation of India’s Vikash to Adani’s fantastic growth surely arouses disbelief.So much for logic.

Here in Assam,following the same absurd logic,a vicious and brutal campaign mainly against Muslims of migrant origin has been unleashed under the garb of preventing child marriage with ruthless violence.Police are making lightning raids on minority inhabited areas of Assam, rounding up all males who had married girls considered minor under the law.(Lately,to dodge criticism, some other areas have also been combed.).

This ‘law jihad’ is breaking up families where the children have already grown up and poor families where the husband is the only breadwinner pushing households to stare at starvation.There have been incidents where wailing or raging wives of affected families mobbed police stations and were lathi-charged by the police.Two distressed wives have taken their own lives,a few have died under the stress.There were other scenes like mothers and children crying their hearts out after the head of the family was taken away.The police plea backed by the mercurial CM is that the women were married without their consent.

It so happens that most of those marriages had taken place with the consent of parents of both bride and groom and in full knowledge of the community without there being any complaint.For this custom of marrying off girls at a young age is quite old and familiar in this community where tradition still rules social conduct.But the concerned law had been enacted by a Congress government some sixteen years back in 2006 forbidding marriage at premature age.However, that act had been more humane and less rigorous probably it had sense of the social realities.It provided for example that unless there was some complaint from some quarters within two years of the marriage taking place,the marriage remained legally valid.Further, children from even such marriages were be considered legitimate.

Thus under that law the police raids would not have been legally justified.But the present raids ordered by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma have invoked another law enacted by Parliament,the rigorous POSCO.Its application is given a deadly edge by rererence to a Supreme Court gloss that like consent of the victim in cases of sexual violence like rape,consent of girls married off at an early age even according to customary codes and institutions is to be considered lacking.Early marriage was like rape an act of sheer violence.Hence the police were enabled to exercise brutal and drastic force even though it might seem exceeding the law.

So far about 2500 men including husbands,parents and Muslim Kazis(traditional Muslim functionaries dispensing justice on personal law and overseeing marriages) have been awakened at dead of night, hauled off to police stations and put behind bars. More arrests are taking place by the day and detention centres,made infamous by Supreme Court’s denunciations,are being jigged up as jails overflowed.

Now no one knows if the rules of the 2006 law have been modified to accommodate the reported ruling of the Supreme Court. Also,whether that had been circulated to Village panchayets so that villagers were made keenly aware of the risks of marrying girls of minor age or arranging such marriages.It is fairly well-known in Assam that in such areas where Muslims were sole inhabitants(also in some tribal pockets) the custom is accompanied by abysmal literacy,wretched poverty,and woeful backwardness.Parents themselves are keen to marrying their girl children off in order to ease their economic burden. It is unlikely that they are really aware of such new legal trends.To sum it up it is but sheer tyranny under the garb of law.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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