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Indian State Assam Scraps 89-Year-Old Law Permitting Underage Muslim Marriages

The state of Assam in India has abolished an 89-year-old law permitting the marriage of underage Muslims, a move met with opposition from minority community leaders who view it as an attempt to polarize voters along religious lines ahead of elections.

Assam, with the highest percentage of Muslims among Indian states at 34%, has expressed its desire to implement uniform civil laws for marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance, following in the footsteps of the state of Uttarakhand, which did so earlier this month.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma “The Assam Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Act, 1935, was repealed, effective from Feb. 24.”

He said, “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.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised a Uniform Civil Code, a proposition opposed by Muslims nationwide.

However, Sarma clarified that Assam would not immediately implement a Uniform Civil Code before the upcoming general elections due by May.

Tensions between Muslims and ethnic Assamese, who are predominantly Hindu, often arise in Assam, where many Muslims trace their roots to Bangladesh. The BJP, in power in Assam and Uttarakhand, identifies itself as the advocate for ethnic communities.

Muslim opposition leaders argue that repealing the colonial-era law is discriminatory and accuse the BJP of attempting to polarize voters.

Badruddin Ajmal, a lawmaker from Assam who leads the All India United Democratic Front advocating for Muslim causes, stated, “It’s a first step towards bringing a Uniform Civil Code, but this is how the BJP government will come to an end in Assam.”

Ozioma Samuel-Ugwuezi

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