ISLAMABAD: The largest minority in Pakistan is struggling to register marriages due to chronic delays in the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act. The draft bill, proposed in 2008 but yet to be tabled before parliament, seeks to address the decades-old problem faced by the Hindu community in Pakistan, which numbers approximately four million.
In Pakistan there is no system for the registration of marriages of certain minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs and Baha’is. There is, however, marriage registration for Christians.
“These are not the best of times for us as we face stiff resistance from the government on the issue,” said MNA Dr Araish Kumar. The government and some Hindus do not see eye-to-eye over the controversial divorce clause. “How can we allow the inclusion of a divorce clause as there is no concept of divorce in our religion?” Kumar said. “Hindus will get Computerized National Identity Cards (CNIC) if the bill gets passed,” he said, adding that Pakistani Hindus often face difficulties when travelling abroad due to a lack of a marriage certificate.
Clause 13, the controversial passage of the proposed 16-page bill, states that any Hindu can divorce his wife or her husband at any time and in any court.
Various conditions have been proposed for divorce proceedings. The new draft empowers any court to entertain any petition for the legal dissolution of a marriage. Various other rules have also been mentioned in the bill, such as when divorcees may marry again, the legal rights of children, void and voidable marriages, the punishment of bigamy and punishments for other contraventions of Hindu marriage laws.
The draft also described practical ramifications of divorce cases, such as the content and verification of petitions, custody of children, ownership of property and savings, and repeals.
Minister pushes for bill
“Our first priority is to get the Hindu Marriage Act passed at all cost,” said Minister for National Harmony Akram Masih Gill in an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune.
He admitted that the divorce clause remains a bone of contention between the government and Hindu community. However, the minister is optimistic a consensus can be reached on the issue after taking all stakeholders into confidence. “I will go to every extent for rights of minorities,” he said. “Marriage Registration Acts will be prepared for all minorities.”
He added that the government had sought the opinion of Hindu community leaders from Hindu Panchayat (Karachi Division), Nagarparkar in Tharparkar and Rahim Yar Khan, who drafted the bill for marriage registration based on the Indian model.
Sikh community leaders have dispelled the impression that this bill can also be applied to marriage registrations of Sikhs based on the Indian model. “We will introduce separate bills for marriage registration of Hindus, Sikhs and Bahai’s,” said Gill, who has decided to summon a meeting of all lawmakers and representatives who represent minorities to pave the way to table the bill in parliament.
“How can this proposed act be applicable for us as our customs are totally different for performing marriages,” said Swaran Singh, a senior member of Pakistan Sikhs Gurdwara Parbandak Committee.
Pointing out differences, he said: “Hindus take seven lavans (name of hymns) while we take five lavans for performing marriages. Hindus also take fire or pitcher [matka] while Sikhs recite from Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh Holy Book). The male leads in the Sikh religion but a woman in the Hindu religion.”
(edited by imran yusuf)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2011.
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