ISLAMABAD: The Natio­nal Assembly finally appro­ved the Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 on Monday, paving the way for the adoption of a comprehensive and widely-acceptable family law for Hindus living in Pakistan.

The bill was tabled before the house by Human Rights Minister Kamran Michael. Though approved unanimously by the lower house without any opposition from political parties, the law met with minor objections raised by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) MNA Lal Chand Malhi.

He pointed towards Clause 12(iii), which deals with ‘Annulment of Hindu Marriage’, saying that it could encourage or give cover to ‘forced conversions’. The clause stipulates that any marriage under this act could be annulled if the other party “has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of not less than two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition”.

A proviso defines ‘desertion’ as “desertion of petitioner by other party to the marriage without reasonable cause and without the consent or against the wish of such party and includes the willful neglect of the petitioner by the other party”.

However, the minister for Human Rights pacified the Hindu legislator from Umerkot, assuring him that he had misunderstood the clause.

PML-N’s Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, one of the movers of the bill, told Dawn that while there were certain shortcomings in the bill it was a laudable and bold step taken by the present government.

“There was no Hindu marriage law in the country for 66 years — the country’s leadership and all the political parties in the parliament have done a commendable job,” Dr Vankwani added.

He has been pursuing the law for almost three years and it took the Standing Committee on Law and Justice around 10 months to clear the bill.

The draft Bill was approved by the NA Standing Committee on Law and Justice on February 8, 2016. Committee Chairman Chaudhary Mehmood Bashir Virk said that the delay was mainly due to certain technical points in the bill.

“This is a complete bill and it relates to the lives of our fellow citizens, therefore all segments including the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) was consulted during the course of discussions, so that there are no complaints from anybody after the law is enforced,” Mr Virk added.

The bill also allows separated Hindu persons to remarry. Clause 17 of the bill states that Hindu widows “shall have the right to re-marry of her own will and consent after the death of her husband provided a period of six months has lapsed after the husband’s death”.

There are penalties for violating the provisions of the bill, which also enables Hindus to finally have a proof of marriage document called the shadiparat, similar to the nikahnama for Muslims. The bill will now be forwarded to the Senate for consideration and passage.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2016

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