Mamtaz Begum (13) would have been married off to a man thrice her age, if it were not Illias Rahman Sarkar who campaigned on Facebook to stop the wedding.
On February 16, 13-year-old Mamtaz Begum of Assam would have been married off to a man three times her age, if it were not for a youth from her village, Illias Rahman Sarkar. Mamtaz is a Class VIII student of Shilayer Par Middle English Madrassa in Kokrajhar district of of the state.
Earlier this year, Mamtaz’s parents — Jaharuddin Karikor and Salma Bibi — pulled her out of school and got her engaged to Hasmat Ali, 33, who had approached them seeking her hand in marriage.
“I did not want to get married. I want to study, get a good job. I’m so happy” — Mamtaz Begum
Illias, 25, an educated resident of Shilayer Par, heard of the impending child marriage from Abdul Jalil Sheikh, the headmaster of 1573 Shilayer Par Lower Primary School. Mamtaz studied in this school till Class IV.
Aware of the ills of child marriage, Illias decided to do something about it. He brought up the matter with the president of Bilashipara All Assam Minority Students Union, Mustafizur Rehman, who first promised action, but later backed out by telling him that “the sub-divisional officer is out of town” and hence he would not be able to act in the case.
The village was divided on the matter. One group asked Illias not to “poke his nose in a family matter.” The other, a much smaller group, wanted the marriage stopped.
“The social structure of a remote village is very complex. A young guy cannot go to the girl’s house and ask her parents to call off her marriage,” says Illias, adding that he was upset and restless as preparations for the marriage were on in full swing.
On the morning of February 14, Illias reported the matter to officer-in-charge of Kajigaon police station assistant sub-inspector (ASI) Suneel Rai, who promised to visit the girl’s house and take action if the wedding was found to be illegal. “The road to Shilayer Par village is broken and so it is not possible for me to go this evening. But I will see to it in the morning,” Suneel Rai told Illias.
Illias also invoked Napolean Bonaparte and pointed out the negative health implications of early marriages on girls, while emphasising the importance of educating the girl child
“Human rights activists, the Assam Human Rights Commission and local TV channels contacted me after my post went viral. I asked them to go to the child’s house and ensure that the parents call off the marriage,” says Illias. “It was Valentine’s Day!” he adds, smiling.
On February 15, ASI Rai called on Mamtaz’s parents and ordered them to stop the wedding or face police action. The couple were left with no option but to comply.
When Mamtaz’s parents told Hasmat Ali about the developments, he reportedly told them, “I didn’t know that the girl was so young. I too am against the marriage now.”
“Human rights activists, the Assam Human Rights Commission and local TV channels contacted me after my post went viral. I asked them to go to the child’s house and ensure that the parents call off the marriage” — Illias