The upper house of Pakistan’s Parliament on Friday passed the much awaited Hindu Marriage Bill, which is awaiting the President’s signature to become law.
The bill, which had been approved by the lower house in September 2015, will help Hindu women get documentary proof of their marriage. It will be the first personal law for Pakistani Hindus, applicable in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. Sindh province has already formulated its own Hindu marriage law..
While approving the bill, committee chairperson senator Nasreen Jalil of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement said: “It was unfair — not only against the principles of Islam but also a human rights violation — that we have not been able to formulate a personal family law for the Hindus of Pakistan.”
The bill was approved by the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights on January 2 with an overwhelming majority. Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl was one of its opponents, claiming that the Constitution was vast enough to cater for such needs.
The bill has implications for the constitutional guarantee of protection of family as well as protective measures ordered by the Supreme Court for the Hindu minority. But some observers say that the bill in its present form leaves some serious gaps.
“A clause exists which intrudes upon an area that other family laws dare not tread – changing religion while in a marriage bond,” said analyst Peter Jacob. “If parliament chooses to pass the bill in the present form, this clause – which makes changing religion grounds for the dissolution of the marriage – will lead to serious legal, social and political implications.”
Parliamentarian Ramesh Vakvani, who helped with the passage of the bill, said one of the partners can approach the court for separation if either of them changes their religion. “Making conversion grounds for the dissolution of marriage in the absence of safeguards against forced conversion is a travesty of justice,” he said.
The Pakistan Hindu Council had earlier filed a petition in the Supreme Court (CP 130, 2007), asking for binding orders to the government for legislation to curb forced conversion.