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Thursday December 09, 2021

In case of separation: Hindu women remain deprived of basic rights in KP

July 12, 2021

PESHAWAR: Wedding anniversaries often are a time of joy and celebration, but for Prisha the day brings only sadness and tears. Her husband left her two years ago, leaving her at the mercy of God, with no legal rights or financial support for her and her son. She survives by cleaning houses in the neighbourhood in Dera Ismail Khan and begging for financial support.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has failed to formulate and notify the rules under the Hindu Marriage Act 2017 to protect Hindu women's legal and financial rights in case of a divorce or separation.

There are many destitute Hindu women like Prisha in KP. When their husbands walk away, they are left without any legal rights or means of support. They, and their children, often end up condemned to a life without any necessities such as housing and food.

A movement is under way in KP currently to protect the rights of Hindu women. Haroon Sarab Diyal, president of the All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement, is leading the fight for the Hindu women, like Prisha.

“This is a serious human rights issue. Hindu women do not have any valid legal marriage documents which contain all conditions by which they can get legal and financial rights. The maintenance, divorce, transfer of property, and inheritance cases need official documentary proofs. The husband just sends his wife to her parents home and does not pay any expenses during a separation or after divorce,” said Sarab Diyal.

KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan has, however, directed the local government to finalise the rules under the Hindu Marriage Act 2017 immediately and present the draft in the cabinet meeting.

Mahmood Khan, while talking to this correspondent, said the PTI government would protect the rights of minorities at all costs. Marital rules for protection of Hindu women would be implemented soon. "As soon as I came to know about the matter, I have issued orders to the authorities concerned to prepare the rules because Islam teaches freedom and protection to all minorities in accordance with their religions," he said

Shakeel Ahmed Mian, secretary of Local Government, Elections, and Rural Development in KP, also deals with Hindu marriage rules in the province. He believes the registration of birth, marriage and death is the local government mandate, irrespective of race or religion. He does not feel there is a need to make new rules to protect the rights of Hindu women.

“However, a separate form is in the final stage for such Hindu marriage registrations, and a consultative meeting with representatives of minorities has been scheduled. Any other issues will be resolved amicably with all stakeholders,” he said.

However, Pushpa Kumari, a member of the National Lobbying Delegation for Minority Rights, rejects the KP government's stance regarding formulating separate rules. She says the Hindu community will not accept the Muslim marriage rules for them.

“Why is the provincial government reluctant to adopt new rules under the act, passed by the parliament in 2017? The government was time and again informed about the untold miseries of Hindu women in marriage, inheritance, kids’ custody, maintenance, divorce, and second marriage issues,” adds Kumari.

During a telephonic interview, Prisha, 23, shared the memories of her separation and the hardships that followed. All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement had set up an interview with Prisha, who has suffered due to lack of Hindu marriage rules. Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.

“Despite arranged marriage, my husband started torturing me physically soon after the marriage. I was slapped in routine by my husband. My mother-in-law never accepted me as her daughter-in-law as I belonged to a poor family and I did not bring a valuable dowry in marriage,” she said.

At one point, Prisha’s husband pushed her so hard that she crashed into a table. She says she lost her first baby due to that accident. She later gave birth to a son. She said many a time her husband kicked her out of house in the middle of night after beating her severely. Since separation, her husband has not “paid a single penny for two years”, Prisha says. “Instead of offering financial help, he filed a case in a court for custody of his son 320-km away from my hometown," she regrets.

Prisha approached the family court two years ago for financial assistance, but the court decision was still awaited. "Although I have some marriage documents, they are not legal documents. I shudder when I think about many other girls who do not have the financial resources or their parents’ support,” adds Prisha.

According to Sarab Diyal, the provincial government is yet to formulate a mechanism and broad framework to make Hindu marriage rules. When a Hindu couple marries, there are three main steps. First, a pundit solemnises the marriage. The second step is to register the marriage with union council within 15 days.

The third step is to register the marriage with a registrar to maintain the record. The same record will be shared with National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to issue the computerized certificate.

“The parliament passed the Hindu Marriage Act in March 2017 and directed each province to make their own rules to protect the Hindu wives, but the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government failed to make any rules, leaving the women in the region vulnerable. Although the Hindu community has sent a draft to the Local Government Department, the rules have not yet been formulated and notified,” added Diyal.