Nearly 68 years after it was created by the 1947 Partition, Pakistan is making yet another attempt to enact a law to regulate birth and marriage registration of its religious minorities.
There is no system in place for the registration of marriages of Hindus, Sikhs and Baha’is, which means that they can’t legally prove their marriages at home and abroad, and wives can’t claim property of their dead husbands.
In the absence of the law, the Hindus, particularly the women, suffer for want of a marriage certificate. Unable to prove their marital status, they are also subjected to kidnapping and forced conversion for marriage. Absence of law also complicates other marriage-related issues like inheritance and adoption.
Earlier announcements in 2008, 2011 and 2012 did not fructify. Another attempt is on the cards as the National Assembly prepares to take up the Hindu Marriage bills moved last year.
The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights headed by Chaudhry Muhammad Bashir Virk is set to review a private member bill, namely Hindu Marriage Act 2014, jointly moved last year by Ramesh Lal of the opposition PPP and Dr Darshan of the ruling PML-N and a similar government bill that had been tabled by Law Minister Pervaiz Rashid in March.
The two bills will establish rules and regulation for registration of marriage and divorce for Hindu Pakistanis, as currently in the absence of such a law, Hindus in the country do not even have a legal document as proof of marriage.
Ramesh Lal says the government is seeking to take credit when there was hardly any difference between the bill moved by him and the government bill. He said they had moved the bill in March last year and it was pending before the concerned committee, when the government introduced its own bill this year.
Lal said he had consulted elders and legal experts of the Hindu community on the draft prepared by the government and there were no major objections to it. A few minor issues remain to be resolved.
He had even consulted former senior Supreme Court judge late Rana Bhagwandas while preparing the draft of his law.
A major difference between the two bills is the jurisdiction of the law. The federal government terms the Hindu marriage a provincial subject and the draft of the government bill states that the law will apply only to Islamabad Capital Territory. On the other hand, the private member bill states that the law will be applicable across the country.
“The Statement of Objects and Reasons” attached to the government bill states that “a large section of the Hindu community, particularly women, does not have basic documentation to prove their marital status or identity”.
“They are also deprived of legal rights such as inheritance, remarriage, separation, adoption of children and annulment of marriage. This legislation will institutionalise marriage and marriage-related legal rights thereof,” adding that “this act is applicable to every person who is Hindu by his or her religion in any of its forms”.
The Clause 5 of the private member bill outlines conditions for Hindu marriage, according to which the age of the groom and bride must be 18 years or above.
The two bills also describe the procedure for the appointment of registrars by the government to solemnise marriages and the legal process for seeking divorce by any party.
The legislation responds to a growing demand from Hindu Pakistanis and civil society organisations working for minority rights for rules and regulation to oversee Hindu marriages and divorce.
Till this legislation comes into being, Hindus, the largest minority at around four million, say that the government is actually resisting the passage of the pending law but will not say why.
One can surmise that the government could be scared of a backlash from the conservatives. The majority Muslim community has no idea of what this entails — because of general insensitivity and an obsession with its own religion — to see that the minorities face problems acquiring national identity cards and passports, registering married women, conducting property transfers and travelling abroad.
The proposed regime relating to marriages is in consonance with the legislations passed in India. This would be the best way forward since going back to ancient roots will surely create insurmountable problems.
For instance, Hindus are not supposed to divorce but in India, divorce has been made possible in civil court. After 1947, India has wisely subsumed some of the laws that the British Raj had introduced to relieve the hardship of ancient practices. As an example of a very progressive measure, after independence India changed its inheritance law, that initially gave the daughter in a Hindu family nothing, to a full share.
Because of the absence of law, the minorities are also short-changed in the issuance of Computerised National Identity Cards by Nadra.
Pakistani Hindus are Hindus of full or partial Pakistani descent. Constituting 2.00% of Pakistan's population, the last Pakistan census divided Hindus into Jâti (1.6%) and scheduled castes (0.25%).
In an editorial published on May 22, 2014, Dawn newspaper noted that the minority Hindu leaders had approached, not the government, but the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to formulate laws against forced conversion of their women.
MNA Ramesh Kumar requested the CII to enact laws to discourage the forced conversions of Hindu girls “on the pretext of marriage”.
“The lawmaker, who also brought up the issue of the lack of a registration mechanism for Hindu marriages in the country, apparently elicited the CII’s support to ensure there is no clerical opposition to the passage of Hindu marriage laws.”
In noted that Sindh, where the majority of Pakistan’s Hindus reside, has been slow in moving forward legislation that would streamline the registration of Hindu marriages.
“It is obvious that if laws were passed by the provinces and the centre offering proof of marriage, it would be difficult to forcibly convert minority women by using marriage as a ruse. While we cannot definitively say that a marriage is forced, in the prevailing atmosphere, with the minorities being hounded by religious extremists, it is not too hard to imagine a Hindu woman being forcibly converted and coerced into marriage,” the newspaper observed in its editorial.
“The delay in passing Hindu marriage laws is indefensible. In essence, the lack of legal recognition of Hindu marriages constitutes a denial of basic rights, as Hindu couples are denied the rights and privileges being accorded to married men and women belonging to the majority community.
Why the non-Muslims, particularly the Hindus are subjected to this? At the root is hatred for minorities and for India.
According to the Sustainable Development Policy Institute report, "Associated with the insistence on the Ideology of Pakistan has been an essential component of hate against India and the Hindus. For the upholders of the Ideology of Pakistan, the existence of Pakistan is defined only in relation to Hindus, and hence the Hindus have to be painted as negatively as possible".
A 2005 report by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a non-profit organization in Pakistan, found that Pakistan Studies textbooks in Pakistan have been used to articulate the hatred that Pakistani policy-makers have attempted to inculcate towards the Hindus.
"Vituperative animosities legitimise military and autocratic rule, nurturing a siege mentality. Pakistan Studies textbooks are an active site to represent India as a hostile neighbour", the report stated.
'The story of Pakistan’s past is intentionally written to be distinct from, and often in direct contrast with, interpretations of history found in India. From the government-issued textbooks, students are taught that Hindus are backward and superstitious.'
Further the report stated "Textbooks reflect intentional obfuscation. Today’s students, citizens of Pakistan and its future leaders are the victims of these partial truths".
Hindus are often referred to as "na pak" in Pakistan. "Na" means "un" and "pak" means "pure." So, Hindus are turned into the impure or unclean. Given that the word "pak" is part of the word "Pakistan" which means "Land of the Pure". Somebody's impurity suggests that they are not really Pakistani.