July 2nd, 2012
Ashadh Pournima, Kaliyug Varsha 5114
Sixty-five year after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the government is about to introduce a marriage registration bill for Hindus, the largest religious minority in Pakistan, whose marriages are not registered officially, leaving the Hindus exposed to malpractices of false conversion and forcible marriage.
Although the over 4.5 million Hindus constitute the biggest minority in the country, successive governments have simply failed to accord them their due rights as citizens. Pakistan’s Hindu community had been demanding the enactment of a Hindu registration bill from the time India’s [ Images ] Parliament had passed the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. The need for it arose from the absence of a legal mechanism in Pakistan to register the marriages of Hindus and Sikhs. With no legal documents to prove they were married to each other, Hindu and Sikh couples living in Pakistan encountered huge problems at the time of migrating or working abroad.
Since marriages did not have a legal sanction in Pakistan, Hindu wives could not legally claim the property of their dead husbands. Religious bigots brazenly exploited the absence of a legal mechanism to register marriages. For years, Hindu women living in Pakistan, even those married and having children, have been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam, and re-married to Muslim men without their consent. And in the absence of a marriage document, their husbands or family members were hamstrung in petitioning courts.
The Hindu community’s demand for legislation to register Hindu marriages caught the media’s attention in 2009 when the National Database and Registration Authority rejected a Hindu woman’s request for a marriage certificate on grounds that ‘no such mechanism or legislation was in place’. The chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, subsequently took suo motu action on this burning issue and directed the federal government on November 23, 2010, to legislate on Hindu marriage rights.
It was on February 28, 2010, that then minister for minority affairs Shehbaz Bhatti (who was gunned down in Islamabad [ Images ] on March 2, 2011) stated on the floor of the National Assembly that the proposed bill would be presented in the assembly within three months. Seven months later, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s member of the National Assembly Kishan Chand Parwani moved it to the parliament in October 2011. This proposed bill was a ditto copy of the Indian Hindu Marriage Registration Bill. But some clauses of the Bill pertaining to the divorce clause caused friction within the elected Hindu members of the National Assembly, thus blocking its passage.
In a latest development, adviser to the prime minister on human rights, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, has informed that an amendment Marriage Registration Bill for Hindus is almost ready and would be presented before the parliament for approval shortly. “As the country’s Hindu community had failed to develop a consensus on some contentious clauses in the Hindu Marriage Registration Bill 2011, the PPP government has decided to introduce a new one. The proposed bill will provide an opportunity to ease the problems facing the Hindu community,” he added.
According to Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, in what could be a landmark moment for the minority Hindu community of Pakistan, Hindus will get Computerised National Identity Cards if the amended Bill is passed.
Unfortunately, a large portion of the Hindu community, particularly women, has been unable to obtain CNICs from the National Data Registration Authority due to the absence of legislation institutionalising Hindu marriage.
Since there is no mechanism for the registration of these marriages, they do not have the basic documentation to prove their marital status and thus cannot claim any legal rights such as inheritance from a deceased husband, re-marrying, divorce, separation or adoption. They also face difficulties while travelling within and outside the country.
Moreover, the ever controversial Clause 13 of the previously tabled Marriage Bill regarding divorce [which stated that any Hindu couple can divorce his/her spouse at any time and in any court] has not been included in the amended draft of the proposed Hindu Marriage registration Bill.
As a matter of fact, the plight of minorities in Pakistan is no secret. The government has been ignoring its responsibility entrusted upon it by the constitution to take care of the minorities’ rights. However, one can still hope that the Bill on registration of Hindu marriages will be passed soon as they are citizens of Pakistan and have a right to have necessary legislation upholding their rights.