The Supreme Court took serious notice on Wednesday of the non-registration of Hindu marriages in Pakistan, saying the rules must be relaxed to accommodate more than three million Hindus in the country.
Hearing a case of a Hindu woman from Rahim Yar Khan, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry asked the National Database and Regulatory Authority (Nadra) to amend its rules and regulations for the issuance of computerised national identity cards (CNICs) to Hindu women within two days.
On November 23 last year, the chief justice took suo motu notice on a news item about the problems faced by a married Hindu woman, Pram Sari Mai, wife of Goband, who was not issued a CNIC because her marriage was not registered.
Justice Chaudhry said that NADRA had earlier promised to formulate a policy in this regard as the Constitution provides equal rights of citizenship to all.
An official of NADRA informed the court that as per SOPs, CNICs are issued to only those who fulfilled requirements, and Hindu women do not have Nikahnamas or ‘Form B’ to prove their claims.
Justice Chaudhry asked the official to rely on affidavits of the Hindu community and issue them CNICs. The official said that a CNIC had already been issued to Sari Mai and a new policy draft has been prepared to relax rules.
“Can you show us a document that prohibits NADRA from issuing CNICs in the absence of Nikahnamas?” the chief justice asked the official, who drew a blank.
The attorney general assured the court that there would be no such restriction from now onwards from NADRA’s side.
Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, another member of the bench, pointed out that the state machinery comes into action whenever the court takes notice. Why are they not cognizant about their responsibilities, he questioned.
“We want amendments in regulations so this issue of the Hindu community can be resolved permanently,” the chief justice said and directed Nadra to produce an amended policy on Friday (March 30) before the court.
Referring to an article published in Daily Express, the court further observed that it was strange that in case of separation or domestic violence, a Hindu woman cannot register a complaint with government departments because she has no legal documents to establish that the perpetrator was her husband.
The Indian parliament passed the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955, which made it mandatory for Hindu marriages to be registered in India. The Hindu community in Pakistan has been demanding the same rights for decades.
While welcoming the Supreme Court’s action, Naina Bai, a Hindu woman from Rahim Yar Khan, told The Express Tribune that Hindu families also face a great deal of trouble while travelling.
She said that whenever they travel or stay in a hotel, policemen and hotel administrations see the Hindu couples with suspicion.
“If the government passes a law that enables us to register married couples, we would be able to defend our self-respect by showing documentary evidence of our status. In most cases, we end up spending nights at railway stations or footpaths,” she said.
Shanktala Devi, a housewife, said that the absence of marriage registration laws has deprived Hindu women of their right to property and other rights conferred upon a divorced or widowed woman.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2012.