Prior to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice passing the Hindu Marriage Bill on February 8, members of the Hindu and Christian communities gathered in Islamabad for a national conference on the said Bill. The conference, organised by a 25-member delegation, reflected the solidarity of the communities on the consensus that had been reached on the long-deferred Bill. Politicians from different political parties, including from the ruling PML-N as well as from the JUI-F and the PPP, civil society groups and the minority community from across Pakistan attended in the conference and pledged their support for the enactment of a law regulating Hindu marriages. The attendees urged the Punjab and Sindh assemblies to pass resolutions under Article 144 of the Constitution that stipulates that the federal government requires resolution by one or more provincial assemblies to legislate on behalf of the provinces. While the Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) assemblies have passed this resolution, the other two provinces have been lagging behind in this area.
Apart from talking about the importance of the Hindu Marriage Bill, another significant area the attendees touched upon was the social and political inclusion of Pakistan’s religious minorities in national life. To his credit, the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, Chaudhary Mahmood Bashir Virk, argued that it was strange that Hindus still didn’t have a law to protect their marital status and family. Like the Muslim citizens of Pakistan, our non-Muslim citizens, regardless of their religious identity, deserve respect and honour and their needs must be met. Virk reiterated that the Standing Committee was all set to pass the Hindu Marriage Bill and it is indeed welcome that just a few days later, this promise was upheld. What now needs to be done as soon as possible is for parliament to pass this law and it is the responsibility of the law minister to move the Bill in the National Assembly.
Even though the Punjab and Sindh assemblies had not passed the resolutions that empower the centre to legislate in this area, there was no constitutional bar on the Standing Committee of Law and Justice to pass the Hindu Marriage Bill. However, whenever the Bill is passed into law by parliament, it will only be enforced in the federal capital territory, and in K-P and Balochistan. Sindh and Punjab can only adopt this law by passing resolutions to this effect. Given the slow pace seen in this regard in these two provincial assemblies, one can only hope that there are no inordinate delays on their part once the National Assembly passes the law.
Our lawmakers must note that in January 2015, the Supreme Court had told the federal government to enact the Hindu marriage law in two weeks. Before that, in a landmark judgment on June 19, 2014, then chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani had told the federal and provincial governments to frame policies to safeguard minority rights. Despite all assurances by politicians and directions by the apex Court, the matter of the Hindu Marriage Bill was continually deferred due to petty concerns. For over six decades, Hindu citizens have been demanding the enactment of this law to protect their dignity and honour as enshrined in the Constitution. However, the matter was repeatedly put in cold storage possibly due to the fact that the majority of parliamentary parties lacked the political will to resolve issues pertaining to minorities. At the same time, minority parliamentary representation has not been strong enough to influence our legal framework. The ruling party must now do everything possible to pass the Hindu Marriage Bill into law as soon as possible. In addition, as stated earlier, the Sindh and Punjab assemblies must also pass resolutions that can enable the enforcement of a uniform law regulating Hindu marriage in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2016.
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