A landmark bill to regulate marriages of Pakistan’s Hindu minority has been unanimously passed by the lower house of Parliament, paving the way for adoption of a comprehensive and widely acceptable family law for Hindus.
The Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 is the first personal law for the minority community and will help Hindu women get documentary proof of their marriage, which is needed while applying for passports and other official documents.
The bill was passed by the Senate or upper house of Parliament last month. It was originally passed by the National Assembly last September, but it had to be approved again by the lower house because of changes made by the Senate.
The National Assembly approved the amendments on Thursday after the bill was presented by human rights minister Kamran Michael. It will now be sent to the president for his signature.
The bill will be applicable in Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces. Southern Sindh province, which is home to a majority of Pakistan’s Hindus, has already enacted its own Hindu marriage law.
The bill aims at easing growing insecurity among Hindus. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the bill provides a mechanism for registering Hindu marriages, conditions for contracting a marriage, and the procedure and grounds for dissolving a marriage.
According to its provisions, both parties to a marriage must be of sound mind and capable of giving valid consent. The parties also must not be below the age of 18, a measure aimed at preventing the marriage of minors.
Michael said the human rights ministry took the lead to protect the rights of minorities and acted to process the bill after obtaining a “No Objection Certificate” from the religious affairs and interfaith harmony ministry.
“There was no law to regulate the registration of Hindu marriages and ancillary matters thereto,” he said. The PML-N government is committed to protecting human rights, including the rights of women and minorities, he added.
The bill was finalised after numerous rounds of consultations between several ministries and Hindu representatives over the past three years.
It paves the way for a document called the ‘Shadi Parath’ – similar to the Nikahnama for Muslims – that will contain details of the bride and groom and be signed by a pundit before it is registered with the relevant government department.
It also provides the concept of judicial separation, where the marriage remains intact while the parties are no longer under an obligation to cohabit. The legitimacy of children born out of voidable Hindu marriages has also been protected.
The bill states neither party should have a spouse living at the time of marriage. However, this condition will not apply where the living female spouse cannot conceive a child and is medically declared to be so. It also allows separated Hindus to remarry.
Clause 17 states a Hindu widow “shall have the right to remarry of her own will and consent after the death of her husband provided a period of six months has lapsed” since the death.
The human rights ministry also obtained resolutions from provincial governments to regulate Hindu marriages under one law that will be applicable to the whole country.
But some observers said the bill in its current form leaves serious gaps. The bill has implications for the constitutional guarantee of protection of family and protective measures ordered by the Supreme Court for Hindus.