The largest foreigners' detention centre in Assam at Goalpara district has been converted into a temporary jail to house the husbands and family members arrested in connection with child marriage.
The state government launched a crackdown on child marriage on February 3 and in last five days, over 2600 accused were arrested. Most of the jails are filled now and to tackle the additional pressure, the state government has setup two large temporary jails.
The Inspector General (law & order) of Assam Police, Prashanta Kumar Bhuyan told The Quint on Tuesday that they have set up two large temporary jails to house the arrested individuals during the crackdown against child marriage. One is in Goalpara and the other is in Cachar district.
"We are using the Matia Transit Camp in Goalpara district and the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) in Cachar district as temporary jails. Declared foreigners are staying in the Matia Transit Camp so we are using part of it," he said.
The Superintendent of police of Goalpara, VV Rakesh Reddy said that the transit camp is capable of housing 3000 people. "We'll use space for 2000 people initially and around 500 arrested husbands have already been shifted here from different districts," Reddy said.
Built on 28,800 square feet areas in Goalpara, the Matia Transit Camp is about 118 kilometres from Guwahati. It started functioning functioning in the last week of January and 68 declared foreigners, including 45 males, 21 females and two minors, were shifted as its first batch.
After the first three days of the crackdown on child marriage in Assam, senior police officials realised that it'll be difficult to house all the arrested persons in the existing jails.
Rakesh Reddy said that they started keeping those accused of child marriage at the Matia Transit Camp since Sunday evening when around 200 arrested individuals were shifted there.
The second temporary jail at the premises of NATRiP has the capacity to take in 500 persons. IG Prashanta Kumar Bhuyan, who is also the spokesperson of Assam police said that the jail in NATRiP will be used for the three districts of Barak Valley.
"Jails in Barak Valley are not filled yet but we are keeping the extra jail ready because the crackdown is continuing," Bhuyan said.
Government's Crackdown Continues
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Tuesday said that they will arrest 3,000 to 4,000 accused and the crackdown will continue further.
"We have registered over 4000 cases and more than 8000 people have been named as accused. Almost half of them are aged persons suffering with health issues, so we'll let them go with a warning," Sarma said.
He said that teenage pregnancy in Assam is quite alarming and they are working for a better future for young girls. "We are getting reports on several protests. But to give lakhs of young girls a better future, we have to sacrifice a bit," Sarma said.
The chief minister on Tuesday shared a report on Twitter which shows that the rate of teenage pregnancy in Assam 2022 was 16.8 percent. Out of a total 620,867 total pregnancies reported in the year, 104,264 were teenage mothers.
As per the report, Barpeta has highest rate of teenage pregnancy with 28.7 percent, followed by Dhubri and South Salmara (27.9 percent) and Goalpara (24.1 percent). Tinsukia registered lowest rate of teenage pregnancy with 8.4 percent.
"Our drive against child marriage is for public health & public welfare as teenage pregnancy ratio in Assam is quite alarming - 16.8 percent," Sarma wrote on Twitter.
Several deaths have been linked with the crackdown against child marriage and the opposition parties like Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) claimed that the BJP-led government in Assam is targeting one community.
AIUDF MLA Karim Uddin Barbhuiya asked the government, why did they allow child marriage to take place when the law against it was there since 2007. Assam Congress president Bhupen Kumar Borah said that Himanta Biswa Sarma is internationally arresting people of one particular community to create fear.
Responding to this, Sarma said that over 42 percent of the arrested persons are Hindus while 58 percent are Muslims. "We are fighting against a serious social issue and it has no religious angle," Sarma said. He urged the opposition to keep this issue beyond politics.
Four women were detained in Silchar for protesting against the mass arrest of husbands and family members by Assam police. Organisations including Nari Mukti Sanstha, All India Progressive Womens' Association, Forum For Social Harmony and a few other organisations jointly staged a protest on Tuesday afternoon.
Dulali Ganguly, who was detained for an entire day at Silchar Sadar Police Station on Tuesday said, "We don't support child marriage but we can't support this sort of behaviour by the police and the state government against financially backward people in the name of a law," Dulali Ganguly said.