While the opposition Congress, JVM-P and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha are gunning for the Marandis, the ruling party in the state is finding it tough to defend the indefensible. Several BJP leaders have now started distancing the party from the controversy.
Tala, a tribal who hails from Santhal Pargana, was appointed as BJP state unit president in June with an aim to counter the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in the region. But things have got messy with Tala’s son Munna allegedly marrying a minor girl last month.
Union minister Sudarshan Bhagat said marriage to a minor girl is a serious issue. The matter is being looked by the BJP leadership, he said, adding that the party’s image has been hit due to this issue.
The matter is likely to rock the monsoon session of the Jharkhand Assembly scheduled to commence on July 22.
According to another senior BJP leader, the party’s central leadership is keeping a close watch on the developments. The top leaders are “not happy with Tala for getting his son married to a minor,” he said.
“Tala committed a blunder and has put the party in an embarrassing situation,” BJP MLA Ashoke Kumar told IANS. “Tribal tradition of marrying a minor has now given way to the law of the land. Tala should have known that,” he said.
Suryamani Singh, the former convener of BJP state disciplinary committee, said Tala Marandi should not remain in his post until the probe in the matter is complete. BJP is known for its clean image and discipline, Singh said. However, it is for the central leadership to take the final decision, he added.
BJP MP from Ranchi Ramtahal Chowdhary said the party would take a final decision on the issue. He said only a medical board can determine the correct age of the girl in question as it would be difficult to determine her age simply from the photographs.
Jharkhand Parliamentary Affairs Minister Saryu Rai didn’t want to comment but said it was for the party to decide. Rai suggested the government should constitute a medical board to verify the age of the girl Tala’s son Munna has married.
It all started when Munna was accused of sexually exploiting a minor girl whom he had promised to marry. The girl filed a complaint with Godda court against Munna. The 16-year-old also appeared before the State Commission for Women (SCW) alleging that she was exploited with false promise of marriage.
The Godda district court directed that an FIR be lodged against Munna in connection with the case.
By that time Munna was scheduled to marry one Mamata Hansda, but she refused to marry him over the complaint of sexual exploitation.
It was then Tala allegedly got Munna married to one Ritu Baski on June 27. As per school records, Ritu is just 11 years old.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das was scheduled to attend the marriage reception on June 28 but in the face of brewing controversy he did not go there.
Under the law, the minimum age for marriage in India is 18. Marrying a minor is a criminal offence and both Tala and Munna are now facing the long arm of the law in the case.
The State Commission for Protection of Child Rights sought a report from Godda district administration and directed that an FIR be lodged if Munna indeed married the minor girl.
Later the Godda district administration filed a civil suit against Tala and Munna in connection with the issue. The lawsuit accuses the girl’s father too.
Meanwhile, opposition parties JMM, JVM-P and Congress have demanded impartial probe and action against the accused.
“Marrying a minor is a criminal offence. The state government should have stopped the marriage but the senior BJP leaders and ministers attended the ceremony,” former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi said.
Jharkhand Pradesh Women Congress Committee President Abha Sinha demanded the arrest of Munna Marandi alleging that three girls have accused him of sexual exploitation.
She said while the state government is making claims over protecting rights of women, in reality it is failing to take action against its own people.
Tala is now trying to justify his action, saying that in rural areas age of girls is not verified for the purpose of marriage. He also said the opposition is fabricating the story of the girl being a minor.