The Hindu Marriage Act 2017: An answer to Hindus problems?
Muhammad Majid Bashir –Advocate
Ms. Zarmala Tashfeen-Advocate
There are approximately 2.5 million Hindus residing in Pakistan, according to the 1998 census, making them the largest religious minority in Pakistan. Despite this, the laws in Pakistan have failed to recognize Hindu Marriages in the registration of marriages. This has lead to severe and widespread problems for the Hindu community ranging from divorce issues, to abduction and forced conversions of Hindu women. This article will examine to what extent the Hindu Marriage Act 2017, which was only recently signed by the President, tackles these issues.
The problems arising out of the non registration of Hindu marriages are numerous. Without any documentary recognition of their marriage, Hindu women face problems in getting their names changed in their computerized national identity cards and passports. This in turn leads to difficulties in accessing government services, educational and medical facilities and traveling abroad.
However, the gravest issue arising out of this is the problem of abduction and forced conversions. Unable to prove their marriages, Hindu women are often abducted most predominantly in Sindh and are forcefully converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), every month some 20 to 25 Hindu girls are forcibly converted to Islam in the Sindh province of Pakistan alone. These forced conversions are usually in conjunction with kidnapping and forced marriage. If they are not married off to complete and often times, far older strangers, they are beaten, raped, sold off or thrown into prostitution.
An example of such practice can be illustrated by the Rinkel Kumari case in which a 19 year old Hindu girl was abducted from District Ghotki in Sindh, converted to Islam and forcibly married to a Muslim man. Her family received death threats in case they tried to rescue her. Rinkels story is not just a one off incident. Nearly 20-25 Hindu girls get abducted every month according to a report prepared by the National Commission for Justice and Peace.
Furthermore, the absence of a proper legislative framework to prove marriages before courts makes it troublesome for Hindu women in enforcing their rights when it comes to inheritance and divorce.
In a positive turn of events, in March 2017, the much awaited Hindu Marriage Bill was signed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. Through the Act, the federal government aims to institutionalize all legal rights related to marriages. All Hindu marriages will now be registered in line with the provisions of the act. Such registrations shall take place within 15 days of a wedding.
One of the notable features of this Act is that it also allows separated Hindu persons to remarry. Clause 17 of the Act states that a Hindu widow “shall have the right to re-marry of her own will and consent after the death of her husband provided a period of six months has lapsed after the husband’s death”
The Act will enable the Hindu community to get their marriages registered and to appeal in courts of law in cases of separation. It is hoped that with this Act, the issues highlighted above will be put to rest.
One of the provisions, which is the most significant one, is that Hindus will finally have a document to prove their marriages called the shadiparat similar to the nikkahnaama for Muslims. This shaadiparat will be signed by a Pundit and registered with the relevant government department.
However, despite the positivity surrounding the Act, some issues remain. One of the clauses of the Act deals with the annulment of marriage whereby it is stated that one of the partners can approach the court for separation if anyone of them changes their religion.
The problem with this is that this leaves Hindu women vulnerable to being abducted and forcefully converted to Islam and then brought to court to state that she no longer wants to live with a Hindu man.
It is unfortunate that this loophole has not been dealt with by this Act. Annulment of marriage should have more stringent conditions as opposed to converting religion so as to curb the prevalent problem of abduction and forced conversionsof Hindu women.
Therefore, it can safely be concluded thatthe Hindu Marriage Act is a great step towards alleviating the various issues faced by Hindus in Pakistan by registering their marriages and allowing them to prove their marriages in court; it is not, however, to be regarded as a complete victory. There still exist hurdles and loopholes which ought to be dealt with in order to put an end to the gravest problem faced by Hindu women in this country, that is, their abduction, conversion and forceful marriages to Muslim men.