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Assam scraps Muslim marriages act; discriminatory, says Oppn

February 24, 2024 19:10 IST

The Assam cabinet has given its nod to repeal the Assam Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Act, 1935 in a bid to end child marriage, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

"This Act contained provisions allowing marriage registration even if the bride and groom had not reached the legal ages of 18 and 21 respectively, as required by law. This move marks another significant step towards prohibiting child marriages in Assam," the chief minister posted on X.

Opposition parties, however, termed the decision "discriminatory against Muslims" and "attempt to polarise voters in an election year".

Speaking to PTI, Congress MLA Abdul Rashid Mandal alleged that by taking a decision to repeal the Act in the year of Lok Saha polls, the government "was trying to polarise voters... it is nothing but a discriminatory decision against Muslims."

The Goalpara (West) MLA added, "The government talks about Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and banning polygamy in the state but no such Bill or ordinance has been brought in the assembly so far for reasons best known to them."

"The BJP government is calling it (Assam Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Act, 1935) an obsolete Act and that registration of child marriages is happening under it, but that is not a fact. This is the only mechanism for registration of marriages and divorce for Muslims and is valid under the Constitution," he said.


The CM said that the district commissioners and district registrars will be authorised to take "custody of registration records" currently with 94 Muslim Marriage Registrars on the repeal of the legislation under overall supervision and control of the Assam Inspector General of Registration.

A one-time compensation of Rs 2 lakh will be provided to Muslim Marriage Registrars for their rehabilitation after the Act is repealed.

The decision to repeal the Act was taken at a late-night cabinet meeting on Friday as it is an obsolete pre-Independence Act of the British for the then province of Assam, the CM said.

Registration of marriages and divorces is not mandatory as per the Act and the machinery of registration is informal, leaving a lot of scope for non-compliance with extant norms, he said.

It was pointed out at the meeting that as per the provisions of the Act, there remains scope for registering marriages of intended persons below 21 years for men and 18 years for women and there is hardly any monitoring for implementation of the Act.

All India United Democratic Front MLA Rafikul Islam alleged that the cabinet decision was taken with an "intention to target Muslims in an election year".

"There were attempts to bring the UCC in Assam but they will not be able to do so as there are several castes and communities and they know it will not be legally tenable," he said.

"They were talking a lot about polygamy but the practice is prevalent among various communities that support the BJP, and as such they cannot bring it (Bill) in the state," he said.

"Our Constitution gives the right to people of different religions, castes and communities to practice their customs and culture according to specific laws," he said.

The Jania MLA said there are personal laws for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Jains, with the Constitution allowing different laws for marriages and divorce for different communities and people are practising according to those.

"I don't think any state cabinet has the right to cancel the rights given to the people by the Constitution at its own whims and fancies," he said.

Assam United Opposition Forum general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said that the state government should not make unilateral decisions on any issue involving social customs, religious beliefs and public sentiments.

"Views of scholars of the communities concerned need to be sought in these matters. We have seen the BJP government playing politics on the issue of Muslim marriage registration," he said.

With inputs from community stakeholders, no one would probably object to any decision regarding the Act but "instead of doing that, the BJP government is creating a political issue to provoke a community, which might cause social unrest. The government should refrain from attempting to create such unrest," the president of the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) said.

Eminent lawyer Aman Wadud said authorised registrars under the Act won't be able to register Muslim marriages now and it will happen under the Special Marriage Act, which requires 30-day notice and a long list of documents.

"This centralised system of registration, by abolishing a decentralised system, will reduce registration of Muslim marriages as most people won't be able to afford registration fees of the SMA," he said.

The government also claims this will completely eradicate child marriage but "contrary to its claim, this will only increase the number of unauthorised qazis and therefore child marriages too", Wadud said.

Another prominent lawyer, Bijon Mahajan, said the cabinet decision to repeal the Act is in tune with the current times and it also has a constitutional mandate.

The chief minister had earlier said that the state government was planning to bring a Bill to end polygamy.

An expert committee had submitted a report on the assembly's competence to end polygamy following which 150 suggestions were received regarding the proposed Bill to end the social menace in the state. The chief minister had said that his government was in support of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) but wants to ban polygamy immediately in the state.

The UCC is a matter which will be decided by Parliament but the state can also take a call with the assent of the President, he said.

The state government had launched a crackdown against child marriage in the state in two phases last year and it was found that many elderly men married multiple times and their wives were mostly young girls, belonging to the poor section of the society, Sarma had said earlier.

In the first phase in February last year, 3,483 people were arrested and 4,515 cases registered in February, while 915 people were arrested and 710 cases registered in the second phase in October last year.

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