Pakistan Senate unanimously passes landmark Hindu marriage bill
Dawn News reported that the bill is widely acceptable to Hindus living in Pakistan. Photograph: (AFP)
The much-awaited landmark bill to regulate marriages of minority Hindus in Pakistan is set to become a law with the Senate unanimously passing it.
The Hindu Marriage Bill 2017, which is the first elaborate Hindu personal law, was adopted by the Senate yesterday.
The bill had already been approved by the lower house or the National Assembly on September 26, 2015, and it now needs just the signature of the President, a mere formality, to become law.
Members of Pakistan's Hindu community had concerns with one of the bill's clauses, which states that a husband or wife can approach a court asking for separation should one of them change their religion
Dawn News reported that the bill is widely acceptable to Hindus living in Pakistan because it relates to marriage, registration of marriage, separation and remarriage, with the minimum age of marriage set at 18 years for both boys and girls.
The bill 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. The Sindh province has already formulated its own Hindu Marriage Law.
The bill presented in the Senate by Law Minister Zahid Hamid faced no opposition or objection. It was mainly due to the sympathetic views expressed by the lawmakers of all political parties in the relevant standing committees.
The bill was approved by the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights on January 2 with an overwhelming majority.
However, Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl had opposed the bill, claiming that the Constitution was vast enough to cater to such needs.
While approving the bill, committee chairperson Senator Nasreen Jalil of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement had announced, "This 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."
Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a leading Hindu lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, had been working relentlessly for three years to have a Hindu marriage law in the country.
"Such laws will help discourage forced conversions and streamline the Hindu community after the marriage of individuals," he said, expressing gratitude to the parliamentarians.
Vankwani also said it was difficult for married Hindu women to prove that they were married, which was one of the key tools for miscreants involved in forced conversion.
The law paves the way for a document 'Shadi Parath' -- similar to the 'Nikahnama' for Muslims -- to be signed by a pundit and registered with the relevant government department.
However, the Hindu parliamentarians and members of the community had concerns over one of the clauses of the bill that deals with 'annulment of marriage'.
It states that one of the partners can approach the court for separation if anyone of them changes the religion.
"What we demand that the separation case should be filed before the conversion as it has given an option to the miscreants to kidnap a married woman, keep her under illegal custody and present her
in a court that she has converted to Islam and does not want to live with a Hindu man," Vankwani said.