Deepawali is the festival of lights, and women also represent this light in many a way in a family in our country. But are women provided with their apt place in society? Perhaps not. No wonder that Khap Panchayats in Haryana, known for their draconian decrees, delivered last month a diktat, as an ‘effective’ measure to curb the heinous crime of rape, that girls should be married by the time they turn 16 years of age. And this was endorsed by INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala. Further came the appalling stand of Congress Pradesh Committee member Dharamvir Goyal’s statement, blaming women themselves to provoke a malefactor to commit crimes they face. This is unfortunate because of the alarmingly high prevalence of child marriages in India. As per the UNICEF report, girl child marriages in India were at 43 per cent in 2007-2008, which was 54 per cent in 1992-1993. Further, a recent report of the United National Population Fund (UNPFA) also highlights the enormity of the problem. The report pointed out a very alarming scenario, which is that 47 per cent of women between the ages 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18 during the period 2000-2011. In 2006 alone, 11 states had 40 to 61 per cent of women in the 20-24 age group, who were married by age 18. No wonder that India accounts for over 40 per cent of the world’s child marriages. Against this backdrop, when the former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala suggests that the growing incidence of rape be addressed by relaxing the laws relating to child marriage (an offence under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006), it is very unfortunate. Strangely, the present Haryana Chief Minister has also reportedly toed this line, which is a rape of rationale. What rubbed the salt into wounds is the recent statement by a BSP MP Rajpal Singh, who said that girls should not be given mobile phones, which is the main cause for their elopement. So much for our politicians’ blinkered opinion, which also corroborates the fact that politicians in India always seem to be thinking of consolidating their vote banks rather than that of the interests of the common man—no matter even if this thinking pushes the country to the abysmal low.
Marriage is a sacred institution and the persons going for matrimony should be of a marriageable age and not that either the girl is married to an old man or she is married at an age when she does not understand what marriage is all about. We hear of this social evil prevalent in several states where girls are married off at an age when they do not understand what marriage is like. Some of them become widows before they know that they had been married off. A total war against this malpractice is of utmost necessity. There is a legislation against this evil, but it can be effectively checked only if the people decide to take the initiative. Unfortunately, there has been no strong reaction on the part of the media and politicians. But we at Uday India always raise such issues that touch the pulse of the common man. For, in a rapidly modernising country, tightly bound by traditional patriarchal views, Indian women face a plethora of threats from sexual violence, dowry murders, discrimination in health, education and land rights as well as child marriage. The situation turns even worse when a staggering 47 per cent of women in India between the ages of 20 and 24 are married before the legal age of 18 as mentioned above. A report by the UNICEF revealed that 82 per cent of girls for Rajasthan are married before they are 18, 15 per cent of girls in rural areas across the country are married before 13 and a major 52 per cent of girls have their first pregnancy between 15 and 19. Amongst all the states in India, it is Rajasthan that tops the list with the average age of a girl for marriage being 16.6 years, closely followed by Bihar (17.2 years) and Madhya Pradesh (17 years). Despite the existence of legislation banning child marriage since 1929, the practice continues to be a social reality in the present India. Until the government takes a bold stance in getting rid of this curse of child marriages, without looking at political stakes and votes, there is no hope. With village mukhias, sarpanchs, khaps etc. controlling the daily life of poor villagers in many parts of India, particularly in North India where this practice is much more prevalent, the government has to boldly step in to take on these powerful people. If laws have to be changed for this intervention, so be it. These powerful people are the key players who deliver votes to the vested politicians, and therein lies the reluctance of political parties and the government to break the curse. India will continue to remain a backward country no matter what the politicians and their coterie shout from the rooftops. This calls for self-reflection on what wrong has gone to the fabric of our society. We are a country where women and girls are respected and revered during Durga Puja and so many other festivals, and on the other hand we have an array of crime incidents against women. Therefore, on this auspicious occasion of Deepawali, we should take the pledge that we would root out this evil so that there is no hurdles in our country’s march to prosperity and development.