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Hindus in Pak struggling to register their marriages: Report

Rezaul H Laskar, PTI
Islamabad, Sept 19 - Pakistan's Hindus are struggling to register their marriages due to chronic delays in the passage of the draft bill for the Hindu Marriage Act that was proposed in 2008, according to a media report today.

The draft bill, which is yet to be tabled in parliament, seeks to address the decades-old problem faced by Pakistan's largest minority community that numbers about four million.

There is no system in Pakistan for registering the marriages of certain minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs and Baha'is, 'The Express Tribune' daily reported.

Pakistani Hindus often face difficulties when travelling abroad due to the lack of a marriage certificate, said parliamentarian Araish Kumar.

"These are not the best of times for us as we face stiff resistance from the government on the issue," he said.

Moreover, Hindus will get computerised National Identity Cards if the bill is passed, he said.

However, the government and some Hindus do not see eye-to-eye over a controversial divorce clause in the draft bill, the report said. "How can we allow the inclusion of a divorce clause as there is no concept of divorce in our religion?" Kumar said.

Clause 13 of the proposed 16-page bill, which covers divorce, states that any Hindu can divorce his or her spouse at any time and in any court.

Various conditions have been proposed for divorce proceedings. The draft empowers any court to entertain any petition for the legal dissolution of a marriage.

Various other rules have been included in the bill, such as when divorcees may marry again, the legal rights of children, void and voidable marriages, and the punishment for bigamy and other contraventions of Hindu marriage laws.

The draft also lays out the practical ramifications of divorce cases, such as the content and verification of petitions, custody of children, ownership of property and savings, and repeals.

Minister for National Harmony Akram Masih Gill, who is responsible for the affairs of minority communities, said: "Our first priority is to get the Hindu Marriage Act passed at all cost." He admitted that the divorce clause was a bone of contention between the government and Hindus.

However, Gill was optimistic consensus could be reached on the issue after taking all stakeholders into confidence. "I will go to every extent for the rights of minorities...

Marriage Registration Acts will be prepared for all minorities," he said.

Gill said the government had sought the opinion of leaders from the Hindu panchayat in Karachi, Nagarparkar and Rahim Yar Khan, who drafted the bill for registering marriages based on the Indian model.

In a related development, Sikh leaders have dispelled the impression that the draft bill can also be applied to registering the marriages of Sikhs.

"How can this proposed act be applicable for us as our customs are totally different for performing marriages," said Swaran Singh, a senior member of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee.

Gill said, "We will introduce separate bills for marriage registration of Hindus, Sikhs and Bahai's." He said he had also decided to summon a meeting of lawmakers and representatives who represent minorities to pave the way to table the bill in parliament. PTI

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