| Bride Sheela, 8, sits beside groom Daulat Ram, 14, during their marriage in Rajgarh district of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday. Despite a government ban on child marriages, the practice is still very common in rural India. (Reuters)
Bhopal, May 5: A number of child marriages took place in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh yesterday on Akti or Akshaya Tritiya. Akti, which falls once a year, is a day when marriages can take place without the need for priests who charge money to decide an auspicious time for the wedding rites.
Most of those involved with the marriages got away with violating the law. Most marriages took place in Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh’s Rajgarh district. In Boda village, 12-year-old Santoshbai was married to Mohan Murli, aged 14.
Some of the young couples were unaware of what was happening, not realising the marriages were for real. In Durg, brides and grooms-to-be had taken leave from school to get married.
In Guna district, represented in Parliament by Jyotiraditya Scindia, girls belonging to the Kushwaha community were married under the cover of darkness and sent off to their in-laws at dawn to avoid public glare.
In cases where police made it to the weddings on time, parents furnished affidavits stating their wards, some in school uniform, were above 18 (or 21, in the case of boys).
The police and non-government organisations say laws such as the Sharda Act or the Child Marriage Restraint Act prove inadequate as long as there is societal and political backing for child marriages.
Senior Madhya Pradesh officials denied that the child marriages took place yesterday, saying the reports need to be verified.
They said Bhopal was committed to eliminating child marriages and sati, pointing to Digvijay’s levying a community tax against Panna village after a sati incident there a year ago.
The story was no different in Chhattisgarh.
Many parents shifted the child marriages from Raipur and Durg to interior towns like Kanker, Rajnandgaon and Jagdalpur to avoid drawing police attention.
According to Fact-Finding Documentation and Advocacy, an NGO, over 1,000 child marriages took place in Sarguja, Urla, Kumhari, Jashpur, Kawardha and other areas.
Parents justified the marriages, saying Akti had given them the opportunity to marry off their daughters at minimum cost.
In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it is still very difficult for a rape victim or one who has had pre-marital sex to find a husband.