Couples who wish to marry under the Special Marriage Act must serve a 30-day notice during which their personal details are on public display. This violates their privacy and leaves many vulnerable to parental and community reprisal.
In October last year soon after ‘S’ informed the district magistrate’s office in Lucknow that she wanted to get married under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), she received an unexpected invitation at home: to visit the local police station.
The police met her, her partner and her father to conduct an ‘inquiry’. Why get married in court? Was the father ok with her decision? Fortunately for ‘S’, he was, even though the Act does not require parental permission, only consenting adults.
“In Uttar Pradesh it is routine to call couples and often their parents to the police station, particularly in cases of inter-religious marriages,” said Lucknow-based lawyer Renu Mishra.
Enacted in 1954, the SMA was for those who wished to marry outside their religion’s personal laws and customs, caste and, often, parental consent.
The spike in child marriage, a side-effect of the pandemic, threatens to reverse gains by years of activism. But a government proposal to raise minimum age to 21 for girls is not going to solve the problem, I write in Hindustan Times
Gita got married when she was 12 but, like most married girls in her village in Rajasthan, continued to live with her parents and go to school. Her gauna — a ceremony when the bride moves to her marital home — would happen years later. But when the lockdown began, her family decided it was time. Gita, on the verge of completing secondary school, was dispatched to her husband’s home. When she left, three other girls from her village had their gaunas too.
The surge in child marriage is an unanticipated side-effect of the pandemic.
Between March and May, Childline India, an organisation helping children in distress, intervened in 5,333 such marriages. “Given that there was a lockdown and no events, no movement and no mobility, the number is very high,” a Childline official explained. When the lockdown eased in June and July, child marriages spiked, marking a 17% increase over the previous year.
There’s a strong correlation between Covid-19 and child marriage.
India’s army of community health workers, the one million Asha workers and 1.3 million anganwadi workers, are invisibilised despite the critical role they play in fighting Covid-19
Sunita Rani knows the meaning of hard work. As an Asha — the acronym stands for accredited social health activist — her days used to start at 7 am: distributing supplements to pregnant women, taking them for check-ups and to give birth in hospitals, tracking their children’s weight and vaccination records, even advising young wives about contraception.
“You had to be on call day and night. You never knew when you would be needed,” she said on the phone from Sonepat, Haryana.
Then coronavirus struck and ‘hard work’ took on a whole new meaning.
Since March, Sunita has completed 11 rounds of interviews and data collection among the 1,000-odd people under her care. Under a scorching sun she walked up to five km a day, telling people to stay home, documenting the elderly and the sick, monitoring for symptoms, checking on those who needed medicines for conditions like diabetes or tuberculosis.