The government and the Hindu community were unable to break their deadlock on Tuesday over the divorce clause in the Hindu Marriage Act. The clause has proved contentious since the bill was drafted in 2008, with the government defying Hindu leaders who believe divorce is not part of their religion’s culture.
Hindus are the largest minority in Pakistan but have struggled to register marriages due to chronic delays to the passage of the act by Parliament. In Pakistan there is currently no system for the registration of marriages for certain minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs and Baha’is.
“We will never allow the government to have a divorce clause in the Hindu Marriage Act,” said Chief Patron Pakistan Hindu Council Ramesh Kumar. “We have no concept of divorce in our religion,” said Kumar, a member in the National Assembly on a reserved seat for non-Muslims. Kumar has been campaigning for the issue for many years. In 2007 he filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking for help to solve the problem without further delay.
Minister for National Harmony Akram Masih Gill said his department was in the final stages of drafting the revised bill. “The divorce clause is an integral part of the Hindu Marriage Act,” he told The Express Tribune. Adding weight to his argument, Gill pointed to India’s Hindu Marriage Act of 1956, which contains a divorce clause, and said that his ministry would consult Indian experts on the issue if a consensus is not reached.
Clause 13, the controversial passage of the proposed 16-page bill, states that any Hindu can divorce his wife or her husband at any time and in any court. Various conditions have been proposed for divorce proceedings. The new draft empowers any court to entertain any petition for the legal dissolution of a marriage. Various other rules have also been mentioned in the bill, such as when divorcees may marry again, the legal rights of children, void and voidable marriages, the punishment of bigamy and punishments for other contraventions of Hindu marriage laws.
The proposed bill seems unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all for minorities. Indeed, Sikh community leaders have dispelled the impression that the proposed bill can also be applied to marriage registrations of Sikhs based on the Indian model.
Meanwhile, a new member’s bill was introduced in Parliament on Tuesday, though the details are yet to emerge. Pakistan Muslim League MNA Kishan Chand Parwani introduced The Hindu Marriage Bill 2011 – which perhaps might offer a compromise which finally bridges the gap between Hindu leaders and the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2011.