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Kshitiz Gaur,TNN | Apr 28, 2014, 01.40 AM IST
AJMER: Preventing child marriages in the central region of Rajasthan on the occasion of Akshay Tritiya on May 2 still remains an uphill task both for the district administration here and the police department.
Official data reveal that child marriages were conducted just two years ago on the government school premises of Shrinagar block of Ajmer district.
To check any such conduct of the social evil this time, the district administration are putting in special efforts this time. As part of the efforts, zonal magistrates are deputed and alerted the police department to crack down on anyone breaking this law.
Most child marriages are conducted in Ajmer-Mewara, the centrally located areas of the state and because of Pushkar city here, almost every caste of Rajasthan their annual meetings at their own temple for lok devta (deity) to decide different issues including child marriages.
Sources said different communities were preparing for child marriages but they will be conducted a few days after Akshay Tritiya. "Because the district administration and the media are coming against the ritual, most offenders shift places and time to conduct the ritual," a leader of community panchayat said.
Akshay Tritiya heralds the marriage season. Hundreds of marriages are on in the region mostly in the rural parts on the occasion. The musical bands have already playing even from the morning escorting grooms to the house of the brides. Local buses are full and people in new clothes attend the marriages. Market places like Kaserganj, Naya bazaar of the city are crowded.
Taking advantage of the season and given the auspicious occasion of Abhooj (no demerits) on Akshay Tritiya, many parents want to marry off their daughters even before they reached their statutory age of 18.
Communities like Gujjars, Rawtas, Meharat, Meghwal, Meghwashi, Khateek and Khathaths still practice child marriage and maintained that there is no harm in the ritual.
"It is wrong to take this practice as child marriage as we do not send our daughter to the husband before they attain the age of 18," claimed Deva Gurjjar of Shrinagar village. He added that the marriage is complete only after the 'Gauna' (cohabitation) ceremony held after the boy and girl attain the statutory age.
These communities maintained that conjugal rights are allowed only after 'Gauna'. Echoing Deva's argument, Hari Singh Rawat, another villager said, "We perform marriages of our children together to save expenditures that would have incurred if we have married them separately." The most common refrain of the community members is, "If child marriage is wrong then why do religion permitted it. Today's people do not understand the concept of 'bal vivah'."
However, progress has been made to stop the practice in the urban areas where families from these communities have instead work for greater education and working opportunities for their children. "Families which have migrated to cities have almost given up the practice because of education and better economic opportunities," said Ashok Rawat, an advocate. Similarly, Rajesh Maghwanshi, a teacher, is of the opinion that the practice can be checked only by uplift of the socio-economic condition of the rural masses.
Officials said because of illiteracy and poverty, this dogma is still practiced and the reality is that they do not need the voice of the common man on the issue. "Even political leaders, sarpanches and MLAs attend these occasions so to remain in touch with the communities," an official said.
State officials from the department of women and child development admit that the prevalence of underage marriages is a concern. It is difficult to track underage marriages or quantify them as they do not get registered and people solemnized them under the pseudo name of 'Gangoz' (a type of community feast in the area) or 'Tulsi marriage' another occasion to organize community feast, a department official added.