Assam scraps law permitting underage Muslim marriages on Modi govt orders

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Brides attend a mass Islamic marriage ceremony organised by the Gujarat Sarvajanik Welfare Trust in Ahmedabad on 4 February 2024. — AFP
Brides attend a mass Islamic marriage ceremony organised by the Gujarat Sarvajanik Welfare Trust in Ahmedabad on 4 February 2024. — AFP

The Indian state of Assam, under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has struck down a colonial-era law governing underage marriages in the Muslim community, just months ahead of the country's general elections.

The move to repeal the 89-year-old law came amid opposition from leaders of the minority community, who called it an attempt to polarise voters on religious lines before polls.

The government in Assam, which has one of the largest Muslim contingents in India at 34% of the population said the the nullification of the Assam Muslim Marriage and Divorce Registration Act of 1935, was effective immediately from Saturday.

The move is part of the ruling party's bid to implement uniform civil laws for marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance, but the Muslims oppose it. The state of Uttarakhand also made such an amendment to the laws earlier this month.

"This act contained provisions allowing marriage registration even if the bride and groom had not reached the legal ages of 18 and 21... This move marks another significant step towards prohibiting child marriages in Assam," Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma wrote on X on Saturday.

"Champion of ethnic communities" is what the BJP calls itself but the Muslim leaders see the latest move as discriminatory.

"They want to polarise their voters by provoking Muslims, which Muslims will not let happen," Badruddin Ajmal, a lawmaker from Assam who heads the All India United Democratic Front that mainly fights for Muslim causes, told reporters on Saturday.