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Assam Repeals 89-Year-Old Law Allowing Underage Muslim Marriages, Sparks Controversy

Assam, India’s northeastern state with a significant Muslim population, has recently repealed an 89-year-old law permitting marriages involving underage Muslims. The decision, effective from Feb 24, has stirred controversy, with opposition leaders accusing the government of attempting to polarize voters along religious lines ahead of elections.

The Assam Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Act, 1935, which allowed marriage registration for underage individuals, has been abolished by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The move aims to combat child marriages and promote legal compliance, as stated by Sarma in a statement on X.

Assam’s initiative to implement uniform civil laws for marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance follows in the footsteps of the state of Uttarakhand, which recently adopted similar measures. However, the Assam government clarified that the immediate adoption of a Uniform Civil Code, a promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is not on the agenda before the upcoming general elections scheduled by May.

The decision has sparked criticism from Muslim leaders who view the repeal of the colonial-era law as discriminatory. Many Muslims in Assam have ties to neighboring Bangladesh, and tensions often arise between Muslims and ethnic Assamese, who are predominantly Hindu.

Opposition leaders, including Badruddin Ajmal of the All India United Democratic Front, have denounced the move, accusing the BJP of attempting to provoke Muslims for political gain. Ajmal emphasized that Muslims would resist any efforts to polarize communities along religious lines and predicted a backlash against the BJP government in Assam.

The repeal of the law reflects ongoing debates surrounding uniform civil codes and the balance between religious customs and legal reforms in India. The decision underscores the complexities of governance in a diverse and multi-religious society like India, where cultural and religious practices intersect with legal frameworks and political agendas.

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