Hindu marriage laws – 08 May 2023

The negligible implementation of the Hindu Marriage Act, 2017, applicable in Punjab, Balochistan and KP, reeks of our institutionalised prejudice. (Sindh has its own law on the subject.) Last week, at an event organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, activists expressed concern that marginalised sections were ignorant about laws that protect them, such as the opacity in the Hindu Marriage Act about who is authorised to solemnise Hindu nuptials. Signed into law six years ago, the edict`s journey has been paradoxical. Although a comprehensive document which breaks with severe traditions on many counts, its implementation has so far merely replaced a marriage photograph with a certificate. The majority of women from a frozen-out community in Pakistan continue to live without official documentation, consent and inheritance, and submit to underage marriage as well as social and domestic violence.

Meanwhile, where the law rescues Hindu women from stringent social confines, the Act`s clause 12(iii) declares that a marriage will be annulled if any of the spouses convert to another religion. This enables rampant exploitation and gives cover to the crimes of kidnapping and forced conversions of married women validated by fake certificates to prove consent to lawenforcement authorities. Moreover, the caste matrix is intrinsic to the Hindu community. Inter-caste marriages take place in the shadow of persecution, especially for the woman regardless of her place in the hierarchy. These intricacies require lawmakers to revisit the law and guarantee protection, equity and freedom to women in particular and lower-caste men. Pakistan took 69 years to legalise the most important social contract in a society for its Hindu citizens. The law needs to be pushed forward with other legislation centred around security and crime control. The state has come under repeated international flak for its record of failure in protecting and empowering minorities. Ground realities need to transform with the implementation of minority laws and widespread awareness to reflect change.

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