ISLAMABAD: The Hindu community is set to have a personal law for the first time as the Senate on Friday unanimously passed ‘The Hindu Marriage Bill 2017’.

The bill — appro­ved by the National Assem­bly on Sept 26, 2015 — is likely to get presidential assent next week to become a law.

The bill will mainly help Hindu women get documentary proof of their marriage. It will be the first personal law for Pakistani Hindus, applicable in Punjab, Balo­chis­tan and Khyber Pakhtun­khwa. Sindh has already formulated its own Hindu marriage law.

The bill presented in the Senate by Law Minister Zahid Hamid faced no opposition or objection. It was mainly due to the considerate and sympathetic views expres­sed by the senators and the MNAs of all political parties in the relevant standing committees.

The bill was approved by the Senate Functional Com­mittee on Human Rights on Jan 2 with an overwhelming majority. However, Senator Mufti Abdul Sattar of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl had opposed the bill, claiming that the Constitution was vast enough to cater for such needs.

While approving the bill, committee chairperson Senator Nasreen Jalil of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement had announced: “This was unfair — not only against the principles of Islam but also a human rights violation — that we have not been able to formulate a personal family law for the Hindus of Pakistan.”

Senators Aitzaz Ahsan, Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini and Sitara Ayaz, while supporting the bill, had said it related to the marriage of Hindus living in Pakistan and had nothing to do with Muslims.

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who had been working relentlessly for three years to have a Hindu marriage law in the country, expressed gratitude to the parliamentarians.

“Such laws will help discourage forced conversions and streamline the Hindu community after the marriage of individuals,” he said, adding that it was difficult for married Hindu women to prove that they were married, which was one of the key tools for miscreants involved in forced conversion.

The law paves the way for a document ‘Shadi Parath’ — similar to Nikahnama for Muslims — to be signed by a pundit and registered with the relevant government department.

However, the Hindu parliamentarians and members of the community had concerns over one of the clauses of the bill that deals with ‘annulment of marriage’. It states that one of the partners can approach the court for separation if anyone of them changes the religion.

“What we demand that the separation case should be filed before the conversion as it has given an option to the miscreants to kidnap a married woman, keep her under illegal custody and present her in a court that she has converted to Islam and does not want to live with a Hindu man,” Dr Vankwani said.

However, the bill is widely acceptable for Hindus living in Pakistan because it relates to marriage, registration of marriage, separation and remarriage, with the minimum age of marriage set at 18 years for both boys and girls.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2017

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