Hundreds of women across Assam on Saturday protested against the state government’s crackdown on child marriage, reported PTI.

On January 23, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had announced that the Assam government will launch a statewide drive against child marriage and will book men marrying girls below 14 years of age under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, and those marrying girls aged 14-18 under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.

On Saturday, the chief minister said that a total of 4,074 cases related to child marriage have been registered in the state, reported The Times of India. He added that 8,134 persons, including parents of grooms and priests, have been named as accused.

The highest arrests were made in Biswanath, Dhubri, Barpeta, Kokrajhar and Hojai, NDTV reported.

Women in the districts of Dhubri, Morigaon, South-Salamara Mancachar staged protests at police stations against the state government’s action. Most of the protesting women are dependent on their husbands for financial support.

The police had baton-charged the protestors in Dhubri’s Tamarhat police station and used teargas to disperse them.

“I am worried about how I’m going to look after my child,” an unidentified woman, carrying a three-month-old infant, told The Indian Express. “My husband worked as a farm labourer. I ran away from home to get married so I don’t have any other support. As of now, I don’t have a single rupee with me.”

In Golakganj police station in Dhubri, a 23-year-old woman protested against her husband’s arrest and threatened to die by suicide if he and her father were not released.

Sarma, however, said the crackdown on child marriage will continue till 2026, when the next Assembly elections are due in Assam, The Indian Express reported.

“There is zero sympathy in these matters,” the Bharatiya Janata Party leader said. “After a young girl is married and goes through...I will have to call it rape...have we thought of the suffering the girl goes through? In order to save lakhs of girls from this situation in the future, one generation will have to suffer.”

Sarma added that the practice of child marriage has to stop in Assam. “I have told district collectors that if anyone has financial troubles because their husbands are in jail, the government can look into it,” he said.

The chief minister also said that the large number of arrests in last 48 hours have created an awareness that child marriage is illegal and different organisations have welcomed the move.

But Opposition leaders in the state have questioned the drive. Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi termed the action as a public relations exercise by the BJP government.

“In Assam the people have completely rejected the initiative of the Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to crack down on child marriage,” Gogoi wrote on Twitter. “It seems the police are instructed to investigate cases that are decades old without proper enquiry or adherence to procedure. It’s a farce.”

Assam Trinamool Congress unit President Ripun Bora accused the state government of grossly misusing the Child Marriage Act.

“There should not be a pick and choose policy to target a particular community,” Bora tweeted. “In Mankachar, fearing that her parents will go to jail, a girl has committed suicide. It’s an effect of whimsical crackdown on the offenders. Pathetic.”

The police, however, denied that she had died because of the government’s drive against child marriage. “She could have done it due to other issues related to her family,” Superintendent of Police Horen Tokbi said. “We’ll investigate the matter further.”