Hindu marriage law
There is good news for Pakistan’s Hindus. Seven decades after the creation of Pakistan, its parliament has worked out a mechanism to register marriages between Hindus in the country. On Monday, the Hindu Marriage Act was approved by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice. The bill is now expected to be cleared through the National Assembly with the backing of the PML-N government. Resolutions in favour of such a bill had been passed by the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies. A longstanding demand of Pakistan’s Hindu community, the bill is aimed at regulating marriages and their termination among Hindu families. Five Hindu lawmakers were present during the review of the bill, which had been tabled in 2014 in the NA but had faced numerous delays due to interventions by the Council of Islamic Ideology and various religious political parties. After the bill is approved by parliament, a mechanism will need to be worked out to register Hindu marriages.
The decades of delay in passing the bill have been truly embarrassing. This has meant that Hindu couples have had to resolve their disputes outside the ambit of Pakistan’s legal system and there has been no formal recourse available to them. Whether registration will offer any new protections is uncertain as the law provides no new protections against the issue of forced conversions and marriages. However, the law has been pitched as a potential protection against forced marriages as proof of marriage will be available in case an already married Hindu woman is abducted. Controversially, however, the approved draft of the bill has a clause declaring a marriage between two Hindus to be nullified if either of them converts to Islam, which arguably negates the earlier protection. Questions of the division of property, receiving pension, annulment of marriage, etc have never been dealt with at a state-level for Hindu citizens of the country and they are unable to provide proof of marriage when required. Lawmakers responsible for drafting the law have rightly asked why we are so afraid of giving protections to our religious minorities. While the law is good news, we must remember that parliament only done what it should have done decades ago.