Marriage and minorities
Laws governing marriage, divorce and inheritance in the minority communities in some instances predate Partition, and have been the source of considerable inconvenience to minorities since Pakistan came into being. Attempts to redress their grievances by reforming legislation have, to say the very least, had mixed success. Some hope for the Hindu community has now appeared on the horizon in the form of the Hindu Marriage Bill 2015. The Standing Committee on Law and Justice, sitting with five Hindu MNAs who were specially invited, have adopted the Bill unanimously with the addition of two amendments fixing the age of marriage at 18 for both men and women and making the new law applicable to the entire country, not only the federal territory.
The Hindu minority is tiny, and shrinking as they come under pressure either to convert or to shift their businesses from ancestral locations. The difficulties of legalising marriage has the knock-on effect of creating other problems in making changes in the CNIC, and NADRA recognising Hindu marriages as legal. Why it has taken so long to produce a piece of legislation that affects such a small minority is something of a mystery, and there were members of the Standing Committee who until the very last were stonewalling the Bill.
Committee Chairman Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk said that he regretted what he described as a “tactical delay” in the framing of a basic piece of legislation. He lamented, rightly, that it was unbecoming of Muslims in general and their political leaders in particular to deny the rights of minorities who presented no threat to the Muslim faith or the state itself. With Hindus being less than one per cent of the population, Mr Virk has a point. Peaceful and almost invisible for the most part, they are regularly marginalised and discriminated against, the vast majority being low-caste, poor and with little chance of advancement. It is to be hoped that the Bill will now be signed into law by the lower house and a wrong righted, though from the behaviour of some members of the Standing Committee, its progress may not be automatic.