The Sindh Assembly passed the Hindu Marriage Bill on February 15 and in doing so has taken a landmark decision. Legislation which is to the facilitation or protection of any religious minority in Pakistan is exceedingly rare. Such legislation as there is, rarely gets implemented and the rights of the minorities are routinely either sidelined or trampled upon. This makes Sindh the first province to pass such legislation and it is much to be hoped that every other province follows the lead taken by it. In the previous week, a National Assembly panel had cleared — despite some dissenting voices — the Hindu Marriage Bill which was the way-paver for the creation of new regulations on the registration of Hindu marriages, inheritance and divorce.
Whilst this move is worthy of our support, indeed praise for the Sindh Assembly in itself a rare occurrence, we do note that this is a step taken almost 70 years late. There has not been unanimous support across the political spectrum, and opposition lawmakers wanted further referral to the standing committee, claiming that there needed to be more input from minority stakeholders. This attempt to derail progress was thwarted by Sindh Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro who ruled out the need for any such step, saying that the assembly had already consulted members of the Hindu community — and there is ample evidence to the effect that this is correct. Interestingly, it is being recommended that the Bill be retrospective in respect of the registration of marriage that is going to make life considerably easier for those already married. The challenge now is going to be implementation. The agency which is going to have to make some adjustments is NADRA, along with Union Council and Ward administrations across the land. Bureaucracies are slow to change and adapt, and can be highly resistant. There is no expectation that this legislation is going to be immediately implemented — no legislation ever is — but we would urge the relevant bodies to have a spring in their step in righting a long-standing historical wrong.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2016.