Category Published Date
Democracy 19 February 2017

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the two million or so Hindus living in the country will have a personal law to document marriages and separations. The ‘Hindu Marriage Bill 2017’ was passed by the Senate unanimously on Friday and is expected to be signed into a law by the president next week. The bill, which applies to Hindus in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had already been passed by the National Assembly in September 2015. Sindh, which houses the largest number of Hindus in the country, already has a personal law for the community. The bill’s approval by the Senate means that Hindu women will now be able to demonstrate proof of marriage, protecting them against forced conversions through marriage. In addition, the use of a document to be known as the Shadi Parath – similar to the Nikkah Nama for Muslims – which will be signed by a pundit, will be registered with the relevant government department, offering proof of the marital status of Hindus. Despite some minor contention from the Hindu community, the bill also carries a provision for the annulment of marriage if one of the partners changes their religion. Some fear was expressed that this could lead to kidnapped Hindu women being forced to say in court that they had changed their religion, ending their marriages to their Hindu husbands. On the whole, though, the bill is seen as a step forward for the minority. It will place on record marriage, separation and remarriage and impose a minimum age of 18 years for the marriage of both boys and girls. Senators from all sides of the political divide supported the bill, with some objection coming only from the JUI-F which contended the constitution already provided sufficient cover to minorities. The bill had previously been approved by the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights with a huge majority. Bringing Hindus into the cover of personal law marks important progress for them and recognises the rights of a community that has faced huge discrimination, the multiple abductions of girls over the past two decades serving as a glaring example of that. The new personal law could help protect them against this.

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