The proposal for registration of women is also unsound and may even be dangerous
Representative image. Credit: iStock photo.
Two proposals that the Madhya Pradesh government is pursuing ostensibly to ensure the welfare and safety of women have become controversial as they may not lead to their intended results but may have an adverse effect. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made two separate suggestions last week to increase the age of marriage for women and another for registration of women who live outside their parental homes with the police so that they can be tracked for their safety. Both proposals appear to address some issues and situations that women have to face. The idea of increasing the age of marriage has been discussed earlier also, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned it in his 2020 Independence Day address. The central government has set up a committee and a 10-member task force to study the proposal.
Though the proposal would seem to be a positive measure, the general view among organisations that work for women and children is that it would be counterproductive. Girls are married off early because of their parents’ poverty or for social and cultural reasons. Raising the marriage age will not help unless these reasons are tackled. It will also mean that women have no freedom to decide about their marriage till they are 21. Even now, the law that prohibits child marriage is mostly used to harass eloping daughters or for separation of couples in troubled marriages. Giving opportunities for education and employment and improving the social status of women is more important than enhancing the marriage age. The Law Commission has recommended a uniform marriage age of 18 for both girls and boys.
The proposal for registration of women is also unsound and may even be dangerous. It assumes that the right living place for women is their home, unless they have a need to work in another place. It seeks to restrict their movement instead of making public spaces safe for them. Registration with the police may also lead to the tracking of women and surveillance on them. The possibility of misuse and harmful consequences may well be imagined. When the proposal became controversial the government said that even young men could opt for it. All people —young and old and men and women — have equal stakes in and rights to public spaces and they should be safe for everyone. The government and police keeping tabs on women is the wrong way to ensure their safety. An even more ridiculous and worrying idea has been proposed in UP. The Yogi Adityanath government is planning to put in place a facial recognition system in Lucknow which will detect signs of distress on women’s faces and alert the nearest police station.