IT is a sign of the times that a public representative belonging to a minority community has to ask the Council of Islamic Ideology to formulate laws against forced conversions, instead of demanding that the government take relevant action. As reported in this paper, MNA Ramesh Kumar requested the CII on Tuesday to come up with laws to discourage the forced conversions of Hindu girls “on the pretext of marriage”. The lawmaker, who also brought up the issue of the lack of a registration mechanism for Hindu marriages in the country, apparently elicited the CII’s support to ensure there is no clerical opposition to the passage of Hindu marriage laws. A draft Hindu Marriage Act has been presented in the National Assembly but has yet to be passed into law, while the federal law ministry says that after devolution, marriage laws come under the provincial domain. Sindh, where the majority of Pakistan’s Hindus reside, has also been slow in moving forward legislation that would streamline the registration of Hindu marriages. It is obvious that if laws were passed by the provinces and the centre offering proof of marriage, it would be difficult to forcibly convert minority women by using marriage as a ruse. While we cannot definitively say that a marriage is forced, in the prevailing atmosphere, with the minorities being hounded by religious extremists, it is not too hard to imagine a Hindu woman being forcibly converted and coerced into marriage.
The delay in passing Hindu marriage laws is indefensible. In essence, the lack of legal recognition of Hindu marriages constitutes a denial of basic rights, as Hindu couples are denied the rights and privileges being accorded to married men and women belonging to the majority community. Earlier, Hindu women also faced difficulties in obtaining CNICs until the Supreme Court stepped in and ordered Nadra to rectify the matter. The state needs to show urgency in this regard and have the relevant laws — after input from all stakeholders, especially the minorities themselves — passed without further delay. Political parties, specifically those who claim to speak for all Pakistanis regardless of caste and creed, must particularly lend their support to this initiative so that Hindu marriages are given legal cover.
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2014