India’s Assam scraps colonial-era Muslim marriage law

Many Muslims in Assam trace their roots to the neighbouring Bengali-speaking and Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh

By REUTERS
February 26, 2024
Brides attend a mass Islamic marriage ceremony organized by the Gujarat Sarvajanik Welfare Trust in Ahmedabad on 4 February 2024. — AFP

GUWAHATI, India: India’s Assam state has scrapped an 89-year-old law that allowed marriage involving underage Muslims, against opposition from leaders of the minority community who called the plan an attempt to polarise voters on religious lines ahead of elections.

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Assam, which has the highest percentage of Muslims among Indian states at 34 percent, has previously said it wants to implement uniform civil laws for marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance, as the state of Uttarakhand did earlier this month.

Nationwide, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other groups follow their own laws and customs or a secular code for such matters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised a Uniform Civil Code, opposed by Muslims.

Assam repealed the Assam Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Act, 1935, effective from Feb 24, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma wrote on X on Saturday.

“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.”

Asked by Reuters on Sunday whether the northeastern state would implement a Uniform Civil Code before general elections due by May, Sarma said: “Not immediately”.

Many Muslims in Assam trace their roots to the neighbouring Bengali-speaking and Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh. Tension often flares between the Muslims and ethnic Assamese, who are mostly Hindu.

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