GUWAHATI: With an MBA degree from the Sikkim Manipal University, Eliyas Rahman could have easily taken up a plum job in a metro and enjoyed a cushy life.
But he chose to wage a battle against child marriage and is bravely fighting against the social malaise despite receiving threats to his life.
A native of South Tokrerchora village in Assam’s Dhubri district, which borders Bangladesh, the 32-year-old Rahman visits remote villages to create awareness about the ills of child marriage, which is rampant in the regions inhabited by Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants, especially those on the sandbars, in Lower Assam’s Goalpara, Barpeta, Chirang and Dhubri districts.
The parents, who are mostly illiterate and poor, consider daughters a burden on the family and marry them off at an early age. Rahman’s approach is two-pronged. He tries to prevent such marriages either by counselling the families or by alerting the police.
“I started working against child marriage in 2015. That year, a man in my village had fixed the marriage of his 13-year-old daughter. When I learnt about it, I took to Facebook to mobilise public opinion against it. When that didn’t work, I visited the local police station and intimated them about the minor girl being married off,” says Rahman. However, the police failed to stop it.
Days later, Rahman says he learnt about another impending wedding of a 14-year-old boy with a 12-year-old girl. “I visited the houses of both families, but they were hostile. They said it was an issue between their families and I had no business to interfere. I took the resistance as a challenge and that’s how my fight began,” he says.
Rahman created Facebook and WhatsApp groups, writing extensively on the ills of child marriage and requesting users to inform him whenever they learn about a marriage involving a minor, assuring he would not reveal their identity.
“It paid off. People started coordinating with me. Today, I get at least three to four phone calls from people every day. I work in coordination with the police and Childline (a helpline service for children in distress). Every time I am informed of an impending wedding of a minor, I pass on the information to the police and Childline.”
“Sometimes, I send my people to homes of such minors to try and convince their parents that what they are doing is wrong. Some are convinced, others need police intervention,” Rahman says. The social crusader attributes the practice to lack of education. He says many children drop out of school as their poor parents want them to work. There are others do not study due to a dearth of schools and colleges in their areas and their parents marry them off.
“Child marriage causes health hazards. It also leads to married minor girls having a discord with their in-laws. How will a girl aged 12 or 13 years take up the responsibilities of marital life and bringing up children” As a result, divorce is common. I have stopped more than 500 such marriages.”
Noor Alom, an officer of the Dhubri District Child Protection Unit, says he has prevented around 10 child marriages after being tipped off by Rahman. “Despite death threats, he is virtually spearheading a movement against child marriage,” Alom says.