Rewinding back few years of my life when I was 15 years old, all I can think about, is how I was going to pass my school exams, thinking where the next hangouts spot would be, and dreaming of being a successful career oriented woman someday. This thought process may seem far too innocent for the doomed world that we are consciously building for ourselves today. The recent Delhi High Court verdict upholding the marriage of a 15 year old Muslim girl came as a rude shock. The court validated its judgment on the basis of Mohammedan law on marriage, which says that a girl can marry the person of her choice if she has attained puberty. And it further says this marriage would not be void. However, she has the option of treating the marriage as voidable, at the time of her attaining the age of majority i.e. 18 years.
The ruling was based on the contention of a Delhi Muslim girl who said that she had married as per her own free will and keeping this in mind, her mother’s charges for kidnapping should be dropped. She won the case. But was it really a win and for whom? For the girls who can now legally stray off and marry a person of their own accord without deliberating much about it? For the Muslim community where the law helps them decide if or not they are mature enough?
It is indeed ironical that just when India, in an attempt to address the issue of child sexual abuse, proposed to raise the age of consent for sexual intercourse from 16 to 18 years, the high court judgment has decided that Muslim girls do not need such protection. Such a regressive ruling passed by our so called progressive country raises serious repercussions. First, the court seems to have approved the concept of ‘elopement marriage’ which will only encourage minor children to elope and marry their young lovers. Second, the ruling serves as an implicit approval for child marriage using Mohammedan law to its advantage. The court’s verdict also brings into question the issue of Child Rights and the fundamental Right to Education. Lastly, the judgment is based only taking into account the physical puberty of a girl and conveniently ignored her mental puberty. A lot of girls attain puberty even at the age of 12, which should not mean they should be married off.
When a girl is allowed to be married off on the pretext of her being mature, the harmful effects caused of this journey which she can now be legally forced to undertake, are numerous. Such marriages usually result in the loss of childhood, forced sexual relations and a denial of personal freedom which is most important at that age for personal growth. If religious sensitivities are cast aside, legalizing marriage of pubescent girls is akin to legitimizing rape.
Some say the decision comes into direct conflict with ‘The Special Marriage Act’ which has set the eligible age for marriage as 21 for men and 18 for women while some Muslim leaders/organizations warmly welcome the ruling. Both these views are restricted in their own way. The most rational view has been expressed by Shiv Sena Chief, Bal Thackeray who has asked for an application of the Uniform Civil Code rather than having a myriad number of laws for each sect in the country.
At the end of the day, a Muslim girl is a girl first and Muslim next and if Indian Muslims are already following the law of the land in civil and criminal matters, then why shouldn’t they also follow universal Indian laws when it comes to marriage and rights of women? The Government of India making it mandatory for all the citizens of the country, irrespective of religion, caste, language and creed, to marry their girls at the age of 18 years, seems to the best solution in midst such chaos.
How could the upholders of law in the country possibly ignore such noticeable and important factors? Why are we allowing a few girls of our country to be treated differently solely on the basis of religion? Perhaps, we would now need to pass a law stating conditions to be fulfilled by the law makers to be able to pass a judgment in order to avoid such blunders in the future.