The need for a Hindu marriage law is felt the most when young women, such as Meena Janti Lal, are abused and kicked out from their homes by their husbands, ending up with no official documents of their marriages or an option to seek legal dissolution.
“For three months after the wedding, my husband kept me locked up in a room and would hit me often,” said the eight-month-old pregnant woman, as she covers bulging belly with her dupatta. “Now he claims that I am not his wife and he will marry again. What shall I do?”
With tears in her eyes and a worried face, Meena sits at the office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) where her parents brought her to lodge a complaint against her husband. Meena is one of the thousand of Hindu women, especially among the poor class, whose marriages have not been registered, and they have no right to go for divorce. The Hindu marriage law has been drafted by experts but has yet to be introduced in the Sindh Assembly by lawmakers.
She is unfortunately not the first of such cases to knock the human rights commission’s door. A representative of the HRCP said that they receive such cases at least twice a month where women complain of their husbands mistreating them. “In the lower caste, women are commonly abused and left behind by their husbands. They also do not grant them any maintenance rights. Human rights organisations in the community are weak and they do not check the status of such women or work to help them.”
Meena’s father, a worker at the Burns Hospital, said that his 22-year-old daughter was sexually abused by a neighbour, Akash, who lives in her sister’s neighbourhood in Gizri. This later led to her marriage with Akash, last August, in order to save the family’s pride. “The wedding took place in a small temple with few people but there were neither any signatures taken nor any documents produced,” he said.
The Express Tribune tried contacting Meena’s husband but he refused to talk and kept hanging up. Meanwhile, the police have taken an interest in the case. SHO Ghazala of the Women Police Station in South zone has called both the families to settle the matter.
According to lawyer Rochi Ram, Hindu women are also deprived of their right to seek divorce, maintenance money, as well as, inheritance rights apart from the right to register their marriages.
Hindu parliamentarian Mukesh Kumar Chawla claimed that a committee of lawyers and experts is finalising a draft of the bill and it would be presented within a month in the Sindh Assembly. He said the bill will include clauses for divorce, right to maintenance and other issues faced by Hindu women.
Lawyer Ram, who had taken part in drafting the bill, insisted that they have already prepared the bill and it is the parliamentarians who are delaying its placement before the assembly. Ram also blamed the Sindh government for their apathetic attitude. “The parliamentarians are all about talking and are indifferent towards crucial issues,” he said.
Larkana fares better
The situation in the rural areas is much better than urban centres, pointed out Kalpana Devi who heads the Hindu Panchayat in Larkana. After every wedding that takes place in the district, they issue marriage certificates that are acceptable in court, she said. If women are mistreated, the elders of the community sit together and work to solve the matter. “For us, the main issue lies when someone wants to move abroad and there is lack of documents to certify the marriage,” she admitted.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th,2013.