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Minority woes: No relief in sight as legislators sit on Hindu marriage bill

By Muzaffar Mukhtar

Published: December 1, 2014

Draft bill still awaits National Assembly approval .

RAWALPINDI: Almost a year after their marriage, Akash Raj is still waiting for his wife’s new computerised national identity card (CNIC).

“Even after being issued an affidavit by a pandit (Hindu priest) I am still waiting for the CNIC,” he said.

“We have to go through a lot of trouble regarding our identity and leaders who claim to represent us do nothing,” he regretted.

Like many others, Akash, 28, a resident of Gracey Lines in Rawalpindi, has only one question — why has the Hindu Marriage Bill not sailing through parliament?

Responding to this question, Pakistan Hindu Council Patron-in-Chief Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani told The Express Tribune that the authorities were initially reluctant to move the bill on the pretext that after the 18th Amendment, it is a provincial subject.

“There is growing concern among Hindus regarding our security, political, social and economic rights,” he remarked. The community’s main concern, according to Vankwani, is forced conversion of girls under the pretext of marriage to Muslims. “In the absence of a separate law for Hindus, our marriages are not registered anywhere,” Vankwani, a ruling PML-N member of National Assembly, said, adding that women also fail to get any share in familial inheritance due to the absence of a law. They are also unable to access health services, cast votes or obtain passports.

At present, the CNIC is the only proof of marriage for Hindus, Vankwani, he added.

According to All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat Secretary General Ravi Dawani, almost 1,000 girls in Sindh are forced to convert every year.

“We’ve made them realise that the process should be initiated from federal level. We have presented the bill in the National Assembly for the second time, but are still waiting for its approval,” he added.

Three months ago, they had a meeting with the ministry of law and justice as well as non-governmental organisations to make a final draft of the bill. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) was also briefed on the important points of the bill and readily accepted them.

“The bill at is ready and the government has directed the cabinet division to approve it, but no further progress has been seen,” he remarked.

CII member Allama Tahir Ashrafi said that we had asked the representatives of Hindus to give one more briefing on the matter. He stated that there is no concept of forced conversion or forced marriage in Islam and such trends must be discouraged. “CII and the Pakistan Ulema Council are trying their best to give minorities confidence,” he said adding that they have the right to lead their lives according to their religious beliefs, he added.

Chairman and director of the Scheduled Caste Rights Movement Ramesh Jaipal stated that in November, he had met with a number of persons including member provincial assembly Kanji Ram, Tahir Khalil Sindhu and Shah Mehmood Qureshi to discuss the issue.

We have also started a postcard campaign to highlight the issue, he remarked. We sent those cards to thousands of people across Pakistan including the prime minister, National Assembly speaker and chief ministers demanding the immediate passage of the bill, he said.

Punjab Assembly ruling party member Kanji Ram told The Express Tribune that the provincial government is making efforts in this regard.

The Ministry of Human Rights and Minority Affairs has asked him to prepare recommendations to make a final draft of the bill, which will be presented in the assembly.

“There are some issues that need to be addressed before the passage of bill, such as the minimum age for marriage, method of divorce and registration and role of pandits, he remarked. Soon, we will present the bill in the assembly after amending the draft,” he said.

MNA Ramesh Lal from the Pakistan People’s Party said they had presented the bill in the assembly twice but have not received a positive response. “The government seems least interested in matters related to minorities, otherwise it would immediately be passed by the assembly without any delay as it regards our fundamental right,” he said.

Human Rights, Minorities Affairs, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Parliamentary Secretary Tahir Khalil Sindhu said they had asked for recommendations from Hindu representatives and would present the bill in the next session after the completion of the final draft.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2014.

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