ISLAMABAD: After decades of filibustering, a National Assembly committee on Monday approved a draft law on Hindu marriages, paving the way for registering marriages in the minuscule religious minority of Pakistan.

Five Hindu MNAs were specially invited to the deliberations of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice on the Hindu Marriage Bill 2015.

Though delaying tactics continued almost to the last, the committee adopted the bill unanimously after making two amendments to fix the minimum age of the marrying male and female at 18 and making the law applicable to whole country, instead of just the federal territory.

Committee chairman Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk regretted the long-drawn tactical delay in framing family law for the Hindu community.

“It was unbecoming of us Muslims in general and the political leaders in particular. We were required to facilitate the legislation, not obstruct it,” he said while talking to Dawn.

“If we 99pc of the population are afraid of 1pc, we need to look deep inside what we claim to be and what we are,” he added.

Chaudhry Virk and MNA Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani had been pushing for approving the bill but members of other parliamentary parties who claim to be more liberal persisted with raising objections.

Even on Monday, Shagufta Jumani of the PPP and Ali Mohammad Khan of the PTI raised many queries about minimum age of a Hindu girl to be married and the status of marriage if any of the partner converted to Islam.

“The age issue has nothing to do with us – the Hindus are marrying their daughters after attaining the age of 18. Why do you object to it,” asked Chaudhary Virk.

Mr Khan responded: “How will you or anybody determine that the girl is not underage?”

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the PML-N told him that people start following the law gradually.

“Under the banner of Pakistan Hindu Council, I arrange mass marriage of around 100 girls every year and we clearly deny marriage of even an orphan who is under 18. Now people know it and they do not insist on marrying girls or boys below 18 years,” Dr Vankwani elaborated.

He also wanted to drop a clause in the bill that says - the marriage will be nullified if any of the partners converts to Islam. It was inserted by the Council of Islamic Ideology when the bill was sent for ‘sharia vetting’ some six months ago.

“Why a Hindu and a Muslim or Christian cannot live together as happily married couple?” asked Dr Vankwani.

However, his suggestion to drop the clause met stern resistance from Shagufta Jumani and Ali Mohammad.

Committee chairman stopped the discussion at this point to avoid “total collapse” of the meeting.

Dr Vankwani, later told Dawn, that open mindedness was wanting in the society. “If Hindu boys and girls elsewhere can marry into other religions why this cannot be a reality here?” he wondered.

After the 18th Amendment, the issues of religious minorities and their family matters became provincial subjects but the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies passed resolutions allowing the federation to legislate Hindu marriage law.

A similar resolution is pending in the Punjab Assembly while not much has been done in this regard by Sindh Assembly.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2016

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