Hindu Marriage Bill


In a landmark move, the National Assembly passed the Hindu Marriage Bill 2017 last week. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, this bill will provide a mechanism for registration of Hindu marriage, which includes conditions for contracting the marriage, procedure for dissolution of the marriage and the grounds on the basis of which such a marriage can be dissolved. It also provides for the concept of judicial separation. Moreover, the legitimacy of children born out of voidable Hindu marriages has also been protected. The bill will enable Hindu women to obtain documentary proof of their marriage. Most notably, it proscribes the marriage of minors and sets a minimum age of 18-years for contracting marriage. This bill is a significant step to ensure the rights of the beleaguered Hindus here. The law will be applicable in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as Sindh has already enacted relevant legislation last year. The Parliament deserves to be commended for taking up this issue neglected for seventy years. Contrary to what the country’s founder had promised, the abysmal status of religious minorities in Pakistan is a matter of collective shame. The fact that there was no legal recognition of Hindu marriages for decades points towards the institutionalized discrimination suffered by the minorities. Hindu women have been targets of rape and abduction, and stories of forced conversions are commonplace.
Unable to prove their marital status, and faced with a discriminatory justice system, Hindu women were vulnerable at various levels. Further, women also faced serious legal hurdles in matters related to inheritance, as widows could not legally prove claims over the deceased husbands’ property. Subscribing to governmental services, opening bank accounts, or any other process that requires official documentation has also been difficult for the Hindu community. It is hoped that with the passage of this bill, Pakistani Hindus can finally rely on institutional protection from the exclusion and violence suffered by them for decades. The challenge before Pakistan’s authorities is twofold. First, the full implementation of the new law in letter and spirit is required. Second, reforming our education system especially textbooks that are filled with disparaging references to non-Muslims especially Hindus should be an urgent priority. All state institutions need to work in unison to change public attitudes towards minorities. Citizenship rights must not be subjected to faith, sect or creed. It is time to fulfil Jinnah’s vision of a progressive and inclusive Pakistan.