Prime Minister seems to be least interested in his declaration of “Save Daughters, Educate Daughters” (Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao). He just made such announcements to please the voters and his party leaders have exactly the opposite approach. Meanwhile, according to data obtained from all the PPOs of Haryana, the number of child marriage cases registered in the state has risen from 71 in 2008 to 614 so far in 2018. The rise was 155 per cent between 2014 and 2018. That is when BJP came to power in both the state and the centre. Earlier this year, UNICEF had also released a report stating that Child Marriage still remains a social evil that India has seemingly had a hard time eradicating.
BJP volunteer Vikas Kumar Gunjan stated, “Be it BJP or Congress, they don’t care about the social cause and betterment. All that matters to them are votes even if it comes by backing the social evil. The common people really need to think now what is needed to lift their lives.”
As per a statement by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to the Lok Sabha, 326 cases were registered in 2016 under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, an increase from 293 cases that were registered in 2015. There is also a year-on-year in child marriage cases from 2014, when 280 cases were registered. The highest number of cases was registered in Tamil Nadu (55), followed by Karnataka at 51. Other states witnessing a high number of cases of child marriages were West Bengal (41), Assam (23), Telangana (19), Andhra Pradesh (19), Maharashtra (16), Haryana (14), and Gujarat (12). Even Puducherry, which had zero reports of child marriage cases in 2014 and 2015, registered 5 in 2016.
Child marriage, which leads to the exploitation of young girls and damage to their health, childhood, and education, is still a curse on India, a country seeking to be a global leader and one of the major problems in states like Haryana and Rajasthan. Rajasthan hasn’t grown out of child marriage traditions but the political leaders are known to clearly support the social evil for their political gains. However, now we have to see how the saffron party will respond to the irresponsible statement from one of its candidates — Rajasthan (Sojat) BJP leader Shobha Chauhan.
A BJP candidate for 2018 State Assembly polls from Sojat in Pali district, Shobha, said that there will be no intervention in child marriages conducted by a particular community in the area if she wins the poll. She was addressing a public rally at Sneh Sammelan at Peepaliya Kala area of Sojat and the comment reportedly came after she was informed that some members of the Dewasi community hold child marriages but are interrupted by the police. Her address was captured on video and it took no time to go viral and started getting sharp criticism.
Hindu Mahasabha member Ambika Nayak expressed her disgust saying, “Where will they take this country! What is the Constitution for?”
Aam Aadmi Party leader Preeti Sharma Menon reacted, “Shobha Chouhan is the truck face of BJP, a regressive and anti-women party that actually promotes child abuse.”
She further added, “I wish the Election Commission in India was not a puppet; else it would have disqualified a candidate that was openly threatening to commit crimes against children.”
Rajasthan will vote for 199 seats of the 200-member assembly on December 7 and counting will take place on December 11. Chouhan has been served a notice and an explanation has also been sought for her remarks. While the entire country is busy reacting on the controversy, the focus should be on the gloomy state of violence against minor girls foremostly raising the question on the government’s determination to address the issue.
Another BJP supporter said, “Absolutely ridiculous promise! The 21st-century leadership has to reinvent itself.”
The practice, where an underage girl (below the age of 18 years) is married to another underage boy (below the age of 21 years) or an adult man, is banned in India under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. The law has provisions to punish any adult participating in or facilitating such a marriage with up to two years in prison or a fine of as much as Rs 100,000 or both. Moreover, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment last year ruled that sexual intercourse with a wife under 18, the legal age of consent, is rape.
With the BJP in power, there has been a rise of regressive forces around the country and especially in Rajasthan. Moreover, such irresponsible statements are nothing new as there are more than one representatives of the incumbent government who endorses the illegal act of child marriage.
In an interview this year, BJP legislator from Madhya Pradesh Gopal Parmar blamed late marriages as the reason for Love Jihad and expressed his support for early marriages because child marriages, including those who never saw each other before, used to last “forever”, unlike divorces that are commonplace today. He also said, “Adolescent girls will not get ‘distracted’ if their marriages have already been fixed.” He also said, “I married as a child, and I ensured that marriages of my children — two daughters and a son — were fixed before they attained youth. They are all happy.”
There is another leader from Jharkhand, BJP President Tala Marandi who faced an accusation of marrying his son Munna Marandi (20) to an 11-year-old girl. The minor had submitted an application before the State Commission for Women against Munna for sexually abusing her for two years with the promise of marriage.
Advocate Amol Sutrale stated, “In India, no one questions our age-old customs to preserve the delicate ties of maintaining good relations. This is why customs create laws and not vice versa. Can BJP or any other party promise any support to child marriage at present in India? I don’t think so. Such support for child marriage is illegal and is made only to gather votes.
If the people of a particular region in India follow a tradition without any compulsion, then the candidate can only assure legislative provisions after making laws in support of such tradition by passing it in Assembly by vote. But empty assurances are not going to help such a candidate.”