Can you prove your marriage? Not if you are Hindu
There is no registration for Hindu marriages in Pakistan. How can we claim to offer equality to minority groups?
A Hindu lady named Perrmessary Mai, aged 45 and mother of four, is the wife of Gomand Gee, and resides in a remote area of District Rahim Yar Khan. In July 2007, she applied for her Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) after which the National Database Regulation Authority (Nadra) officials asked her to give proof of her marriage.
In this regard she was asked to get attestation from the nazim (mayor) of her area or a Hindu MPA or MNA. As she was not able to get hold of a Hindu representative and the nazim refused to help her based on some personal reasons, Mai failed to get her marital status verified.
As her counsel, I filed a writ petition in Lahore High Court (LHC) in July 2008, and finally in November 2009, the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan took a suo motu notice of the case, based on an article published in the Daily Express. Subsequently, in January 2010, she was able to acquire her CNIC on SC orders. This is a country where a woman from a minority community had to wait two and a half years, despite SC orders, just to verify her marital status.
The ordeal does not end here.
In 2001 a Hindu lady, Mrs Guddi Mai, filed a suit for maintenance for her three children and herself against her husband through my law chamber, in the family court. When the husband was summoned by the judge he denied his relationship with Mai and the children. One cannot imagine the catastrophic state that the woman would have been in then.
She couldn’t do anything. There is no registration/documentation of Hindu marriages in Pakistan.
She was then asked to prove her marriage and the legitimacy of her children based on circumstantial evidence. Although she won the case, it left many question marks on our claim, as a nation, of safeguarding the rights of minorities.
According to a recent census, there are 4 million Hindus living in Pakistan. While almost all religious communities have their respective marriages registration rules and certificate of marriages for married couples, the Hindu community remains deprived of this right.
For Muslims, in the year of 1961-62, laws and rules were framed to register the Muslim marriage. According to the regulations, a Muslim marriage is registered with an officially appointed person, called Nikahkhawan who is licensed to issue a certificate of marriage called the Nikahnama.
Similarly the Christians also have the ‘certificate of marriage’. The certificate or Nikahnama is a recognised deed with the presumption that the marriage has been consummated and performed in accordance with law. The document is acceptable to all government and private departments. Courts are also bound to give presumption of truth to the certificate of the marriage meaning the persons are legally husband and wife.
The Constitution of Pakistan provides ample protection and safeguards to religious minorities without any discrimination. However, Pakistani Hindu couples face a lot of problems due to the non-availability of their certificate of marriages:
- Without legal authentication, Hindu couples cannot prove their relationships.
- The acknowledgement of their matrimonial relationship is at the sweet will of the concerned authorities or government departments.
- Hindu couples, especially wives, face severe problems for the preparation of necessary documents like CNIC, domicile, passport and other documents where the marital status of the applicant is mandatory. Here the couple may be refused entirely or be obliged after certain monetary compensations thereby adding to the already prospering culture of corruption.
- It has been observed in many cases that one of the spouses, often the husband refuses to recognise the other partner as his/her better half, as shown the above stated Guddi Mai case.
- While travelling together, in public places, hotels and motels, especially on police checking, Hindu couples are in often in a bad position as they have to prove their marriage but cannot. As a result, couples have to deal with embarrassing, awkward and sometimes demeaning situations.
- Likewise in all civil, family and criminal matters in court, Hindu couples face problems on account of non-registration of their marriages.
A campaign was launched on 2009 by the Hindu community, with the help of certain NGOs, persistently clamouring for their marriages to be registered. The response from the media, civil society and human rights activists was encouraging however the government and political parties remain oblivious to the issue.