The Sindh Assembly on Monday passed the Hindu Marriage Bill 2015, becoming the first provincial legislature in Pakistan to formalise the recognition of marriages of the Hindu, Sikh and Jain minorities.
Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) general secretary Deepak Kumar Bhagchandani said the bill fulfilled a long-standing demand of the community as Hindu marriages were not formally registered till now.
The bill, moved by Sindh law minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, was passed after a debate. Khuhro said, “Since the creation of Pakistan, it is the first time that such a law is being passed. The decision has been taken to provide a mechanism for formally registering Hindu marriages in Sindh.”
Hindu leaders said the bill ensures the protection of rights of divorced women. “There is no room and concept of divorce in Hinduism but this law legitimises and preserves the rights of women if and when it happens,” said community member Pooja Rajput.
“It ensures the conservation of women’s matrimonial rights, such as pension for widows, share in husband’s property and the minimum marriage age of 18 years. This requirement will play its part in the much-needed renunciation of the Hindu community’s old customs and tradition of child marriages.”
Hindu couples were often unable to apply for work abroad or immigration in the absence of a legal marriage document.
The bill sets several conditions for recognising marriages. The bride and groom have to be 18 years or older, parties to the marriage should be able to give consent, and two witnesses must be present at the time of the marriage.
The bill will have retrospective effect for registering marriages solemnised prior to the law. Couples who fail to register their marriage will have to pay a fine of Rs1,000.
Last week, a panel of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament cleared the Hindu Marriage Bill, paving the way for federal regulations for registering marriages and divorces by Hindus. A panel of the Senate or upper house has convened a meeting to take up the same draft bill.
A clause in the draft bill, which says a marriage will be annulled if one of the partners converts to another religion, has been opposed by the PHC.
Bhagchandani said this provision is objectionable as there is potential for its misuse, leading to more cases of forced conversions.
Hindus are Pakistan’s second largest religious minority, with an estimated population of 3.3 million. The lack of a legal mechanism to register marriages made it difficult for Hindus, especially women, to obtain government documents, open bank accounts or apply for visas.