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A relentless legal battle by a woman married at 14 has culminated in Madhya Pradesh dropping a rule that disqualified from government service those married as minors,even though they were the victims.
I never lost hope and kept studying. I am very happy today, Ratnarashi Pande,now 36,told The Indian Express after the cabinet on Wednesday decided to do away with the rule. It was Ratnarashis petition in the Supreme Court,resulting in notices to the government,that resulted in the rule change,a government spokesman confirmed. She was the only person to move the Supreme Court, he said.
The rule had been introduced in 2002 as a deterrent against child marriage,which is rampant in the state. It ended up working against the victims rather than those who had forced them into such marriages.
The Congress has slammed the move. PCC chief Kantilal Bhuria said the Congress had introduced the rule to put an end to child marriage. Parents in rural areas will now be encouraged to marry their children off at an early age, Bhuria said.
Now divorced and mother of two,Ratnarashi was not even allowed to appear for the state services examination. She first moved the high court,which dismissed her petition on the ground that rule 6 (5) had been introduced to the M P Civil Services Rules to provide an effective deterrent against child marriage.
Ratnarashi then moved the Supreme Court,which issued notices to the state government and the state services commission and asked them to keep one post vacant. The matter is slated for final hearing in July.
Intent on standing on her feet,Ratnarashi had lived and studied in Bilaspur,leaving her two children in the care of her mother in their family home in Viveknagar,about 12 km from Anuppur. The M P Service Commission did not even accept her examination forms,forcing her to approach the court only for appearing in the preliminary examination.
She has done that thrice. She failed to clear the mains once,the result of one examination is yet to be announced,while the third is subject to a pending court case.
She is very bright and always hopeful, lawyer Neela Gokhale said of her client. She said there was a need to quash one more rule,which disqualifies women from jobs if they marry a man who is already married.
I have been studying but my ability to concentrate suffered because of the uncertainty about the examination, said Ratnarashi,a science graduate and arts postgraduate.