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Decision to Increase Minimum Marriage age is Progressive: Muslims Must not Fall to Negative Propaganda

Union Cabinet has approved the proposal to increase the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years, more than a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the announcement in his Independence Day speech of 2020. Consequently, adjustments will be made to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006), and other personal laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Special Marriage Act will be introduced by the government. The clearance granted on Wednesday is based on recommendations made to Niti Aayog in December 2020 by the Centre’s working committee, helmed by Jaya Jaitly and tasked with investigating the issue. Many girls in the northern Indian state of Haryana, which has the lowest female-male ratio among Indian states, reportedly appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year to increase the marriage age from 18 to 21.

Bringing legislation for raising marriage age of girls has earned mixed responses, some arguing in its favour arguing that it is necessary to bring gender equality and at the same time would lead to a reduction in gender-based violence in a significant way. While others have pointed out that age does become a parameter to define gender equality. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has challenged by moving a motion in opposition to the legislation by terming it as an attack on Muslim Personal Law. AIMIM leader Assaduddin Owaisi has also aired reservation by calling it “typical paternalism” from the government. All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has termed it as a “diversionary tactic” and an “ineffective” technique to bring women empowerment.

Therefore looking at the legislation from a broader perspective, it must be highlighted that there is an imminent need for education, creating societal awareness about gender sensitivities, risks related to child marriage and ensuring a safety net for women falling in the disadvantaged categories. Furthermore, the Indian Muslim community has been on a receiving end at the developmental indexes in which women mobility has been at the lowest. Therefore Muslims must not fall into the binaries and political debates around increasing marriage age. Instead, there is a greater need to educate muslim women so that the gender biases and segregative societal structures are done away with. And increasing the minimum marriage age would surely help the women in achieving their dreams.

It is important to highlight that Muslim personal law governs marriage matters in Indian Muslim society, which is flexible and equivocal on the subject. There is no specific age fixed in Islamic law. However, the Quran refers to attaining “reason” as a precondition for girls’ marraiges. It shows that there is scope to adjust the legislation with Islamic law and work towards the progression and welfare of women.

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