The delayed Hindu Marriage Bill has passed and as anticipated it will bring a shelter of lee and glimmer of hope for many Hindu couples confronted by matrimonial issues. In its absence young, innocent women have been forcibly converted to Islam, widows have led unprivileged lives and there is no way of proving their marriage to claim their inheritance, married couples have faced harassment since they have no certificate proving their nuptials, and newly wedded couples have endured separation waiting for difficult documentation required to apply for immigration.
Why is the registration of Hindu marriages important?
First and foremost it establishes that Hindus enjoy equal rights as the Muslims of Pakistan and are Pakistani, not only by birth but also by rights granted to all citizens. Second, the registration of a marriage makes it legal: legal means that it is recognised by the State allowing preservation of the rights of both the parties involved.
This is extremely important, especially to ensure that Pakistani Hindu women and their rights are protected. Hindu women have, in the past, been subjected to domestic violence with no way of escaping it; I mean, look at it this way, we live in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and this woman who is ‘living’ with this man (even if she is married she has no way to prove it) and hence were to report the case to our police – what do you think would happen? I’ll tell you, the same thing that happens to every woman who is raped and has to provide two male witnesses to the event. She has no way to prove she is married to him and living with him before marriage becomes her burden to fight – the onus lies completely on her. If the marriage is not recognised, under the law it does not exist and if the marriage does not exist, how is she supposed to get it annulled or obtain a divorce from an abusive husband? Hindu men have taken advantage of this and there has been a steady rise in domestic violence in the Pakistani Hindu community. If proven guilty, a husband can be jailed for up to four years under the charge of domestic violence in Pakistan. But if a woman cannot prove a marriage no case can be filed making her extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation at home.
The Hindu Marriage Bill ensures the protection of women rights in the event of divorce which have been violated in the past. 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. It ensures the conservation of women’s matrimonial rights such as pension for widows, share in husband’s property, etcetera and minimum marriage age requirement of 18 years. This requirement will play its part in the much-needed renunciation of Hindu community’s old customs and traditions of child marriages.
Another unfortunate consequence of these marriages not being recognised is when a Pakistani Hindu couple applies abroad for literally anything; immigration, a job, a passport. Recently, a close friend of mine found herself stuck in a conundrum due to the lack of a registered marriage. She and her husband had applied for immigration to Canada. Now for a normal Pakistani Muslim couple the process was fairly simple – they produced their marriage document to prove their marriage. Because my friend did not have a marriage document, she had to approach the Panchayat (the Hindu community’s regional head) for a certificate to prove that her marriage was in fact real. Once they obtained the relevant certificate they had to approach NADRA for a CNIC with her husband’s name on it – this delayed the immigration process quite a bit. Unfortunately, the Canadian embassy discredited their case the first time under the pretext that theirs was not a ‘serious’ enough response to the immigration case. It has been three years since they have reapplied.
The Sindh Assembly, today, proved its progressiveness by being the first in Pakistan to pass the Hindu Marriage Bill with the following conditions for a marriage to achieve legal recognition:
A. Parties to the marriage are of 18 years of age or above
B. Parties to marriage are able to give consent
C. At least two witnesses are present at the time of the solemnisation and registration of marriage
According to the bill, every marriage being solemnised under this act will be registered with the union council/ward within 45 days of the solemnisation.
This Bill lacks in addressing the issue of abduction and forced conversion of Hindu women under the premise of marriage. It does, however, nullify the marriage if it is found that one of the partners have converted to another religion. The clause has been reproduced below:
“Clause 12(iii) says a marriage will be annulled if any of the spouses converts to another religion.”
My concern, however, is the fact that some conversions take place by choice and others do not – this clause does not draw that distinction, hence, I am not sure how this would play out in a court of law. The patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, PML-N MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, said,
“There are fears the clause would be misused for forced conversions of married women the same way young girls are being subjected to forced conversions.”
Another issue that irked me was whether or not an individual who forcibly converts a Hindu girl will be eligible for appropriate punishment or not. The Bill seems to be barren in that regard as far as my layman eyes could tell. If, however, there is a clause that punishes people for forcibly converting Hindu women, it could also help in mitigating the threat of abduction faced by Hindu women every day.
The Hindu community of Pakistan is looking in earnest at the government for further securing their rights with proper legislation. It has been 68 years since we have spoken about giving minorities equal rights – perhaps it is time to live up to our promises.
Today as a Hindu in Pakistan, I have also been recognised as a Pakistani Hindu – things can only look better from now on.