Sindh holds the distinction of being the first and only province of Pakistan to legislate on marriage registration for the Hindus and other related issues. However, the implementation of the law has been a challenge that needs to be met.
The aforesaid proposition was the main crux of a consultation on the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act 2016 organised by the Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in collaboration with the Community World Service Asia.
According to a statement issued, several such cases have surfaced that signal gaps in the implementation of the law due to lack of awareness among the relevant authorities as well as the public, and it was due to this that the SHRC felt the need for holding a consultation for devising a mechanism to promote awareness about the law.
The marriage registration for the Hindus living in Pakistan was a long overdue demand of the country’s largest non-Muslim community that was actualised with the introduction of the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act in 2016, speakers at the consultation said.
A year after the Sindh Assembly passed the Act, a similar law was enacted by the National Assembly, which extended to the Islamabad and the rest of the provinces. Earlier, the Hindu population of the province was deprived of marital rights that were granted through the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act 2016. Initially, the Act particularly addressed the registration process, while other issues related to solemnisation of marriage such as underage marriage, post-marriage rights and dissolution of marriage were addressed in the law through amendments
Justice (retd) Majida Razvi, the SHRC chairperson, said the commission was a statutory body established under the Sindh Protection of Human Rights Act, 2011. The Act was notified on 30 April, 2013, and the SHRC on May 9, 2013, she explained, adding that the commission comprised a chairperson, two members from the judicial side, 2 MPAs and two representative from civil society.
The commission had powers to take suo motu notice, she said. Krishan Sharma, National Lobbying Delegation (NLD) member, said all stakeholders should sit together to have a dialogue on the implementation of the Hindu marriage law.
Rights activist Kapil Dev discussed the prospects of the Sindh Hindu Marriage Amendment Act 2018 along with their implementation mechanism. He said the Article 25 of the 1973 constitution stipulates “All citizens are equal before [the] law and are entitled to equal protection of [the] law.”
He stated that the Article 2A of the Objectives Resolution also sets out protection of the legitimate interests of minorities and their ability to profess their religion freely as one of the guiding principles for governance.
The issue of the lack of a Hindu personal law was first highlighted in the 1970s in Parliament, but could not be formalised into a law due to opposition of Hindu parliamentarians, he recalled and added that in 2011, the fourth National Commission on the Status of Women put forward the Hindu Marriage Bill 2011.
The Parliament attempted thrice to pass the Hindu Marriage Bill in 2008, 2011 and 2012 but to no avail, he said. It was said that the landmark 2014 Supreme Court judgment on the rights of religious minorities was followed by an order directing the government to enact a law within two weeks in a suo motu notice taken by a bench headed by then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on the matter.
In 2016, Sindh passed the Sindh Hindu Marriage Registration Act 2016 as the Pakistan Peoples Party’s government in the province did not want the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s government in the Centre to take credit for passing a law for Hindu marriage, it was said.
In 2017, the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act 2017 by Parliament marked a breakthrough as the first legislation dealing with personal law of Pakistani Hindus.
In 2018, Sindh also passed Sindh Hindu Marriage Amendment Act 2018 at par with legislation done at federal level. In 2019, Sindh and Balochistan framed rules of business for the implementation of the law; however, the implementation was still the biggest challenge, it was said.
Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Nuzhat Shirin said the caste system within the Hindu community was also one of the challenges as it was often observed that cases of girls forcibly converted from lower castes were not highlighted compared to those who were forcibly converted from upper castes.
Kalpna Devi, a participant in the meeting, said that Sikhs in Punjab has opposed the Hindu Marriage Act, after which a separate bill was passed for them.
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