Hindus in Pakistan want marriage law amended over 'regressive' clause

Karachi: A Hindu lawmaker has sought an amendment to the recently adopted law on Hindu marriages in Pakistan's Sindh province over a controversial clause that a marriage will be dissolved if either spouse changes religion.

The law was passed by Sindh provincial assembly on Monday, making the province the first in the country to allow the minority community to register their marriages.

This was after the National Assembly committee on law and justice last week approved the draft law on Hindu marriages, paving the way for registering marriages in Pakistan's minuscule Hindu minority after decades of delay and inaction.

It marked the first step to help over 3 million Pakistani Hindus, majority of them living in Sindh, to register their marriages.

However, the clause about automatic dissolution of a Hindu marriage in case of a change of religion by either partner has drawn criticism with many describing it as a veiled effort to facilitate forced conversions, which has been a major issue faced by Hindus in Sindh.

Ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) lawmaker Ramesh Kumar Vankwani yesterday got support of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights for amending the bill.

Interestingly, Vankwani was part of the panel which passed the bill last week but has now become its vocal critic demanding removal of the dissolution clause.

"The clause 12 can be misused to forcefully convert married Hindu women the same way young girls have been kidnapped and forced to convert to other religions," he said.

Vankwani said the clause was against the basic human rights of Hindus living in Pakistan.

Senator Farhatullah Babar of Pakistan People's Party also supported removal of what he termed the "repressive" clause.

"It amounts to promoting forced conversions not only of young unmarried girls but also of married Hindu women. It is a grave human rights violation of the Hindus," said Babar.

There is also debate about the Hindu marriage law fixing the minimum age of 18 years for marriage with Hindu parliamentarians like Vankwani saying that Hindu men and women cannot marry until they are 18.

There is growing consensus that the issue of age should be left to the "discretion" of Hindu lawmakers but the removal of the regressive clause is problematic as religious groups involved in forced conversion of Hindu women are opposing it with the support of right-wing political parties.

After Sindh, other provinces and parliament are also planning to pass the Hindu Marriage Law.

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