Guwahati: With the outcry against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) still echoing across the length and breadth of the state. a statement from Assam’s Linguistic Minority Development Board (ALMDB) came completely out of the blue on Monday. The board declared that to foster unity, harmony and strengthen ties between the state’s Hindu Assamese and Bengali communities, the state would be offering ‘financial aid’ to Bengali Hindu brides and grooms who marry Assamese Hindu partners.
According to the ‘scheme’ will cover couples whose inter-community marriages (between Assamese and Bengali Hindus) face stiff resistance from their families. The state will offer between Rs 30,000-40,000 to such couples ‘so that they can at least start a shop’.
The state government’s move has been described as ‘motivated by politics’, ‘stupid’, ‘outrageous’ because inter-community and inter caste-love requires no financial incentive. It has also been called an ‘intrusion’ on personal affairs of people, and even as bozoruwa (cheap) by some representatives from across the state’s ethnic groups. Others, including those who are in inter-community marriages, questioned why aid could not be provided to couples who want to have inter-faith marriages, which is mostly frowned upon in society.
Alok Kumar Ghose, who is the chairman of the board and a former MLA from the upper Assam constituency of Mariani, stated that the proposed move was welcomed by chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, minority welfare minister Ranjit Kumar Dutta and state finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in a recent discussion. he said it had nothing to do with the agitation against the CAA. Ghosh also added that the board is hoping to implement the scheme within two months, claiming that it would “set an example in the country for promoting inter-community harmony”.
Ghose was quoted by India Today as saying, “We are trying to provide financial assistance to the couples who entered into inter-community marriages. We are trying to help them who already entered into inter-community marriage, but they did not think about their future, some couples who have faced social boycott, etc. They should have also the right to live in our society.”
He added that the exact financial amount is yet to be finalised. It was also reported that a website is presently being designed to help Bengali-Assamese Hindu couples to ‘register their details online’.
The Times of India quoted Ghose as saying couples in inter-community marriages are “often deprived of property rights” and face social boycott. “We intend to assist such couples in setting up shops, beauty salons and also in farming,” he said.
Initial reactions to the scheme
The Wire reached out to representatives from across the ethnic spectrum for their reactions to the scheme. Sodou Asom Bengali Okyo Mancha, a pan-Assam social organisation working among the state’s Bengali demography, said the new ‘scheme’ crosses a line. Its working president Shantanu Mukherjee asked, “Why is the government not working towards overall development. This is a diversionary tactic to steer attention away from the protests against the state government.”
He said marriages are a matter of ‘mind and soul’, saying there is ‘no need to misguide Assam’s people’. “It is aimed at politicising love marriages. The basis of inter-community marriage is love. People are now more open, and the mind has broadened. We want peace and harmony in Assam. The state government is being too dramatic,” Mukherjee said.
Rejaul Karim Sarkar, the president of All Assam Minorities Students’ Union (AAMSU) called the scheme ‘a personal intrusion’ on the part of the state government. “Why just Hindu Bengali and Hindu Assamese? The state government has stooped so low and is now entering into peoples’ personal lives. I urge the state government not to indulge in politics on the basis of religion and love marriages. Please don’t divide the people of Assam. We all are Assamese here.”
Matiur Rahman of the Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, an umbrella organisation of several ethnic groups, told The Wire described the scheme as “utterly shameless”. “This is an attempt on the part of the state government to portray the ethnic Assamese community as bozoruwa (cheap). We will not accept it.”
The Wire also spoke couples who are in inter-community marriages. Pradip Das from the Birubari locality of Guwahati, who is married to an Assamese, said, “Such a scheme may have political intent behind it. If it is implemented it may be good. I cannot say much because the details are unclear. Politicians keep devising schemes, but one needs to see if they work or not.”
Binita (name changed), who married a Bengali man, asked why the scheme does not extend to inter-faith marriages. “There should be no discrimination involved. It is true that due to the conservative outlook of our society, at times couples who intermarry face acceptance issues from their families. The state should also look out for inter-faith marriage. After all, marriage is a choice, irrespective of community or faith.”
This is not the first time that the state government has aimed at getting leverage by pushing schemes centred on marriage. In November, the state government announced the Arundhati scheme, providing 10 grams or tolas to every adult bride who has completed her tenth grade and whose marriage has been registered. Only those brides whose annual family income is less than Rs 5 lakh can avail the benefit. The scheme, which Himanta Biswa Sarma said would cost the state exchequer around Rs 800 crore per annum, commenced on January 1, 2020.