Pakistan’s lower house of parliament has passed a landmark bill that will address the Hindu minority’s concerns over the registration of marriages, which is required for measures aimed at protecting women’s rights.
The bill will address other key issues of the Hindu community, including matters related to divorce and forced conversions. Hindu leaders welcomed the bill but Amarnath Motumal of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it only addresses “half of the issues” faced by the community.
The Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 was passed by the National Assembly on Monday after much delay and inaction. Much of the debate centred round whether the bill addresses the issues raised by the minority.
Human rights and religious minorities minister Kamran Michael, who presented the bill in the House, told the media it was a historic day for him. “Credit goes to (both the) opposition and ruling parties, which are on the same page on the draft (bill),” he said.
Experts said the passage of bill removed a hurdle on the way to putting in place measures to protect women’s rights. Activists have said Hindu women have been disproportionately targeted for abduction and forced conversions because their marriages were never officially recognised and, therefore, not provable in court.
On August 17, the National Assembly’s standing committee on law and justice tabled its report on the bill, which had been pending with the panel since March last year.
The draft law was moved by two minority lawmakers – Ramesh Lal of the Pakistan People’s Party and Asiya Nasir of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal. The bill was later supported by the ruling PML-N party.
The absence of a legal mechanism for registering marriages and handling matters such as divorce also created problems for Hindus, especially women and members of marginalised lower castes, in getting travel and identity documents.
Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces have given their consent for the federal government to frame a Hindu marriage law that they will adopt, while Sindh province, where a majority of Pakistan’s Hindus live, has formulated its own Hindu marriage registration law.
Through the bill, the federal government aims to institutionalise all legal rights related to marriages. All Hindu marriages will be registered in line with the provisions of the act. Such registrations shall take place within 15 days of a wedding.
Hindu widows will now have the right to remarry of their free will six months after the death of the husband, according to the bill’s provisions. The bill will also help put an end to the abduction of married Hindu women.
But this is an area where Hindu leaders say more has to be done. “The whole concept of abducting Hindu women and converting them to Islam and marrying them off has to be seen and examined,” said Motumal.