The long-deferred Hindu Marriage Bill

The absence of a Hindu marriage law has resulted in forced marriages and forced conversions of Hindu women in Sindh

Shahid Jatoi January 04, 2016
The writer is a Senior Program Officer, Governance and Rule of Law, at the Community World Service Asia, a regional organisation aiming to implement humanitarian and development initiatives

In pursuance of the motion adopted by parliament on April 10, 2009 and a similar motion adopted by the Senate on April 29, 2009, the then National Assembly speaker, Fehmida Mirza constituted a special committee of 27 members belonging to all parliamentary parties to deliberate constitutional reforms. Unfortunately, there was no representation of minority parliamentarians on this committee. Nevertheless, the hitherto federal subject of minority affairs was transferred to the provinces. After 2010, it has been the responsibility of the provinces to legislate for the country’s minorities. However, some minority issues are of national level and need national legal attention. The enactment of a Hindu marriage law is one of these.

Article 25 of the 1973 Constitution stipulates that “all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law”. Ensuring that this constitutional guarantee is also enjoyed by religious minorities has remained a challenge. Pakistani Hindus are a socially, politically and legally excluded community of the country. The lack of legalisation of Hindu and Sikh marriages has given rise to numerous issues for both communities. The Hindu community, according to the 1998 census, comprises around 2.4 million people. According to revised estimates of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Hindus constitute 1.85 per cent of the total population of Pakistan, which would make their total population about 3.3 million. For the last six decades or so, no substantial efforts have been made for pro-minority legislation. The need to give Hindus equal marriage registration rights and legal protection is the basic constitutional right of Pakistani Hindus. In the absence of such a marriage registration act, Hindu citizens are unable to legally prove their marriages. Consequently, they also face difficulties in obtaining their CNICs and passports as they are unable to prove relationships. In addition, after the death of the husband, the wife and children of the deceased cannot prove their relationship for succession and inheritance and widows face difficulties in claiming pensions. Likewise, the absence of a proof of marriage causes difficulties in the transfer or succession of movable and immovable properties. Hindu women do not get any share in their husband’s property, while the children face numerous problems with respect to inheritance. Moreover, in the case of adoption, many issues arise on the legal front.

The absence of a marriage legalisation process results in violations of human rights, especially those of women. There is no process or law regulating the separation or divorce of Hindus. If the husband so pleases, he can leave his wife without fulfilling his marital obligations or contributing to the expenses of the children. In the absence of divorce certificates, remarrying has become a legal issue as well. Furthermore, as married couples don’t have basic credentials to prove their marital status, they face difficulties while travelling within and outside the country, especially when seeking passports and visas, although under an interim arrangement as directed by the Supreme Court, the local union council issues registration certificates of marriage for Hindus that are helpful in obtaining CNICs and passports.

The absence of marriage registration has also resulted in forced marriages and forced conversions. Many such cases have been reported in Sindh. In the absence of laws of marriage registration and religion conversion, oppressed Hindu women have no protection. All these issues necessitate the enactment of a Hindu marriage law.

From the 1970s to date, efforts have been made to table a Hindu marriage bill in parliament, but these have been stalled due to various controversies. Ramesh Lal of the PPP and Dr Darshan of the PML-N jointly moved the Hindu Marriage Bill 2014. The Supreme Court also directed the federal government on January 13, 2014, to ensure the enactment of Hindu marriage laws and the Minister for Law, Justice and Human Rights moved this bill in March last year. But it is pending in the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights and even if it is passed, it will only be implemented in the federal capital territory, as under the 18th Amendment, the provinces have to legislate on minority issues independently. However, Article 144 states that provincial assemblies can pass resolutions allowing the federal parliament to legislate for the provinces. In June, the Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights discussed the Hindu Marriage Bill 2015 and deferred it till it is able to obtain such a resolution from the provinces so that the Bill can be applied nationally. The chairman of the committee, Chaudhry Muhammad Bashir Virk, has stated that letters and reminders have been sent to provinces to pass the required resolutions so that the committee may approve the bill. Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have already done so and reportedly, the Punjab Assembly will pass such a resolution soon.

In Sindh, where the majority of Pakistan’s Hindu citizens reside, the matter seems to be in cold storage. A bill on the Hindu Marriage Act 2015, presented by Nand Kumar of the PML-F is also pending, despite the fact that the ruling party here claims to be secular. Surprisingly, the PPP does not seem interested in pro-minority legislation. The Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights has been sending reminders to the Sindh law department to pass the resolution required under Article 144, giving the federal legislature the authority to legislate for Hindus, but there has been no response from the province so far. Hindu citizens have been urging the Sindh government to pass this resolution. The PPP must realise that the passing of this resolution will enhance the confidence of religious minorities in both the Pakistani state and in the Sindh government.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2016.

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Nand Lal | 7 years ago | Reply This law is necessary for Hindus and should be immediately made. we support this law
Komal S | 7 years ago | Reply In USA they are talking about legalizing gay marriages and in Pakistan we are still talking about legalizing Hindu marriages. Can't Hindus in India demonstrate to the UN about this discrimination. This cannot be just an internal issue if you are a member of UN, just curious.
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