Superstition fuels child marriages in MP
Kumar Shakti Shekhar, NDTV.COM Sunday, April 30, 2006
Atleast 24 under aged couples about to get married in a mass wedding ceremony at Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh, have been detained by the police.
These mass weddings are organised to mark ‘Akshay trityaa’ or akha teej.
The day is considered by Hindus as auspicious for weddings, but it has come to be associated more with the illegal practice of child marriage that still prevails in various parts of India.
But many among those detained are now refuting the allegation of being a minor.
One boy Madho Singh, allegedly a minor, has been detained in Rajgarh police station. He was to be married on May 3.
"I am a resident of Sanghi village. I was being taken to Bana village when the police came and arrested us. No, it was not my wedding today but I was supposed to get married in another 2-3 days. I have not done anything wrong as I am 22-years-old," he said.
Akshay Trityaa falls on the third day of the second half of the Hindi month of Vaishakh every year.
It is people’s long-standing faith that couples live a long and happy life if they enter into wedlock on the occasion.
Thousands of marriages, including child marriages, are thus taking place in Madhya Pradesh at this time.
As a result of this, the infant and female mortality rates are high in the state. While the national average of female mortality is 407 per lakh, it is 498 in Madhya Pradesh.
As against the infant mortality national average of 60 per 1,000, Madhya Pradesh has recorded 85 per 1,000.
Despite this the state government has shirked off all responsibility and has failed to launch a yearlong campaign with people’s participation. As a result, the evil tradition continues.
State government advertisements on child marriages are considered illegal but the warning has hardly had any impact.
Child marriages take place on a large scale in Madhya Pradesh on Akshay Trityaa and the state government’s writ goes only as far as the advertisements.
"I feel that no child marriage will take place this year. We will not let it happen. We are committed to totally checking child marriages in the state," said Kusum Singh Mehdele, Women and Child Development Minister, MP.
But anyone who dares to challenge the tradition is threatened with brutality. Last year a woman’s hands were chopped off for trying to stop child marriage.
Madhya Pradesh leads the country in infant and female mortality rates and social workers blame child marriages for the sad reality.
"Whatever the claims of the government and official circulars may be, over 25,000 child marriages on one day cannot stop without political will and the fixing of accountability on ministers and officials," said Sachin Jain, social worker, Bhopal.
The state government’s campaign to check child marriage will hardly have an impact since it was launched merely a few days before the Akshay Trityaa. It can prove useful only if run throughout the year.