It is a cause of much celebration that the Hindu marriage bill has been passed by the Senate and will soon become law. The rights granted in the bill should have always existed as opposed to being granted after a long-drawn struggle, but although it comes very late it is a most welcome achievement.
It has long been argued that the Constitution caters to all religions and has scope to accommodate to the needs and laws of different religious groups. But it clearly does not. In fact, Pakistan state and society points to anything but an equal space for all and there is widespread institutional discrimination against religious minorities, the impact of which can be seen all over and around Pakistan.
This particular bill be the first personal law for Hindus in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as Sindh has already formulated its own Hindu marriage law. A document named ‘Shadi Parath’, which will be similar to a Nikahnama for Muslims, will be signed by a pundit and registered with the relevant government department, finally getting rid of the absurdity that Hindu marriages are not recognised in Pakistan.
The bill is also most necessary in the wake of countless documented and undocumented cases of forced conversions and forced marriages. Too many girls and women have suffered in Pakistan on account of being abducted and forced to convert by Muslim men. Now, with this bill, Hindu women will have documentary proof of their marriage, preventing cases of forced marriages of already married women. A significant feature of the bill is also that it attempts to curtail cases of child marriages in the Hindu community with a minimum age of 18 set for both boys and girls as well as conversions of minors.
It is unfortunate that the Hindus in Pakistan had to face this level of persecution to secure a most basic right. It is hoped that the authorities duly recognise their failings in this long period and do everything it takes to make sure the law is not abused. The Pakistani state has a lot to prove to its minority religious groups.