New Delhi: In the proposed law that seeks to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21, the clause criminalising violations of this ought to be dropped, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has stated in its feedback to the government.
The Sangh had discussed the issue at the annual meeting of its top decision-making body, the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS), held in Ahmedabad earlier this month, according to a senior RSS functionary.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was tabled in Parliament in December, and was later sent to a select committee for further examination after opposition parties protested against the way in which the legislation was introduced.
The amendments to The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, could cast the criminality net wider, with the offences defined in the original law — punishing adult men who contract a child marriage, and those who solemnise, promote or permit such a marriage — now being extended to marriages involving 18-20-year-old women.
Speaking to ThePrint, the RSS functionary said, “The government has given data to back the bill, which is a fair enough point. The data presented before Parliament referred to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS statistics, which show that between the ages of 15 and 18, 7 per cent of girls have been found to be pregnant. There are instances in which medical complications arise. We understand that.”
However, he added, “It’s a good decision to raise the marriage age, but we do not support criminalising those who violate this. This is a complex thing in a diverse country like ours. There can be circumstances under which a woman has to be married off before she turns 21. There are social implications, too.”
“We feel that these laws should be brought with absolute consensus and in a systematic way. This should not be pushed in a hurried manner, and the government understands this,” he said.
Slow and steady
Another senior member of RSS’s central committee said that the government knows the Sangh’s views on this.
“As the government sought feedback from all organisations. we sent ours. We understand the concern, and we want the empowerment of women. But not all women would opt for a PhD. Some may join their husbands to start an enterprise as a family unit — that’s also empowerment. So we have to give them choices,” he said.
The RSS members feel that the government should be ‘slow and steady’ while bringing in such a regulation, which will affect people’s lives across the country. “It is a social issue. It has to be addressed with empathy, and we are happy that the government is doing it. It did not show any adamancy. The bill has been sent to the select committee for more discussion and examination,” he added.
While this is a rare instance of a move by the Modi government facing pushback from the RSS, the senior members say this wasn’t a veto — the Sangh has just sent its suggestions.
“The RSS is a social organisation and we work on the ground. We know what kind of situation emerges in families when they marry their daughters young,” said a third senior functionary.
“We are still struggling to bring down child marriage, but if the woman is an adult, then she can marry. However, the government’s decision is also right. But the implementation of such an act will take time and trust,” he added.
He further said, “We are just urging the government to take out the criminality clause. We cannot start filing cases against people who had to marry their daughter off due to some pressing family issue. It will make things more complicated. Instead, we can wait and create an environment for society to accept and implement it on its own.”
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)
Also read: New marriage bill can cast the criminality net wider, draw more Indian women to courts & cops