Krishnagar, Aug. 11: Police swooped on a wedding hall in Nadia's Nakashipara last night and rescued a 14-year-old schoolgirl from being married off to a man more than double her age.
Salim Mondal, a 35-year-old farmer and a father of three, was arrested under the child marriage prevention law.
The district administration today trumpeted last night's raid as a major success in its battle against child marriage.
But a senior state women's commission member said many such marriages go unreported across the state and Nadia is no exception.
'In the rural areas, there is a growing trend of marrying off daughters at a tender age, eight, nine or 10, because the dowry demand is less. It is a matter of regret that there is virtually no data available on child marriage as the parents strive to keep it a secret,' said Rama Das, the women's commission vice-chairperson.
Nadia district magistrate Rajesh Pandey said: 'This (Salim's) arrest will act as a precedent. We will rid Nadia of child marriage. We are also carrying out a survey to figure out how many such marriages take place in the district every year.'
Salim ' like the girl he was about to marry ' lives with his wife and children in Bikrampur village, about 130 km from Calcutta. He had even built a new room to house the child bride.
The girl's father, Sirajul Haque, named a dozen villagers, including a CPM panchayat member, Abbasuddin Mondal, who allegedly cajoled him into getting his daughter married. Abbasuddin and the rest, who have been named in an FIR, are now absconding.
A small farmer, Sirajul told the police that he was not keen on handing over his daughter to Salim, but agreed under pressure. A refusal would have made Abbasuddin angry, he said. So, the schoolgirl sat before the qazi.
'My father told me to marry or else we might be harmed,' she said today.
'Abbasuddin is a powerful man. He told me that Salim was his close friend and liked my daughter. He also asked me to give my daughter's hand to him in marriage. When I protested, he threatened to make me a social outcast. So I agreed,' said Sirajul.
One of the girl's maternal uncles, who could not accept his niece's wedding with Salim, called up the police.
When the Nakashipara circle inspector, A. Rashidujjaman, reached the village with a large police contingent, the qazi was about to start the rituals in front of about 500 villagers.
'The moment I ordered that the marriage be stopped, the father of the bride came to me and broke down. He requested me to allow the marriage to take place. Abbasuddin, one of the main organisers of the marriage, had fled by then,' the inspector said.
The FIR, he added, mentions that many village elders were present at the wedding and had forced Sirajul to allow his daughter to marry Salim. 'We will arrest all of them.'
A women's commission functionary said traffickers often use marriage of minor girls as a front to take them away from the parents. 'So, we feel that a study of child marriage in the state will also help us figure out the extent of trafficking of girls.'