Status of minorities precarious in Pakistan: Daily

Islamabad, Feb 18 (IANS) The status of minorities in Pakistan is a particularly precarious one, a Pakistani daily said Thursday, observing that with the passage of a bill in Sindh province, the Hindu community can finally rely on institutional protection from the violence and deprivation they have suffered for decades.

An editorial “Minority rights” in the Daily Times on Thursday said that in a landmark move, Sindh has become the first province to give those belonging to the Hindu minority the right to formally register their marriages.

As per the law passed by the Sindh Assembly, parties to the marriage have to be 18 or above, should be able to give consent, and have at least two witnesses present. The law will be applied retrospectively.

“Married couples have to register themselves, or risk paying a fine. Sikhs and Zoroastrians will also be able to register their marriages under this law.”

The daily said that the passage of the Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 is a significant boon for the beleaguered Hindu community of Sindh and Pakistan at large.

“It is shocking to consider that it took almost 70 years after Pakistan came into being for such a bill to be passed. After the 18th Amendment, issues pertaining to minority rights became a provincial subject but Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Balochistan have passed legislation putting the matter back in the basket of the federal government, whereas Punjab still has to pass any bill on the matter,” it added.

The editorial went on to say that it is no revelation “the status of minorities in Pakistan is a particularly precarious one”.

“The fact that there was no legal recognition of Hindu marriages for so many years reflects the fact that discrimination suffered by the minorities was not simply societal but also institutional.

“Hindu women are targets of rape and abduction, which frequently result in forced conversions of said women. They are then forced to marry their rapists, even if they are previously married. Previously, since no law recognised their previous marriage, they could not prove their married status and a discriminatory justice system that already disadvantages minorities almost always took the side of the Muslim perpetrators.”

The daily pointed out that due to the absence of such a law Hindu women, again, have also had to face more legal hurdles in matters related to inheritance, as widows could not legally prove their claims on their deceased husbands’ property.

“It is hoped that with the passage of this bill, the Hindu community can finally rely on institutional protection from the violence and deprivation suffered by them for decades.

“As far as the federal government is concerned, a draft bill is being considered. However, a clause of that bill is causing controversy as it holds that the marriage will be voided if one of the spouses converts. This clause is highly unnecessary and leaves the door open for continued abduction and forced conversion. Leaving it in will void the purpose of formalising Hindu marriages. Hence this clause must be removed before the bill is passed.”

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