Women’s Parliamentary Caucus Punjab plans on tabling a groundbreaking bill, ‘Punjab
The News obtained the draft of the ‘Punjab Registration of Hindu Marriage Bill 2014’ from Women Caucus coordinator and PML-N MPA Azma Zahid Bokhari. According to Bokhari, the bill has been submitted to the Punjab Assembly Secretariat after facing rounds of scrutiny from the Department of Law, Punjab.
If the Marriage Bill is passed – which Bokhari predicts will, due to the urgent need felt across political lines for legislation endowing legal status to Hindu marriages – the province of Punjab will become the first of the four provinces to acknowledge and appoint a separate marriage registrar for Hindu couples.
Talking to The News, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Member of National Assembly (MNA) from Larkana, Ramesh Lal said the previous government had tabled a similar bill in a NA session in 2013 but had met with objections from different government departments and rival parties.
Significant clauses of the Hindu Marriage Bill 2014 include a “Shaadi Parat” form which will act as a certificate or document of Hindu marriage, acknowledgement of Hindu rites, ceremonies, and vernacular customs of Hinduism, appointment of a ‘Marriage Registrar’ by the Punjab government to have license to register Hindu marriages and issue “Shaadi Parat,” functions of the registrar to be carried by an appointed Hindu Pandit or Maharaj or Panch or elder of Hindu community, and maintenance of the marriage register by a relevant Marriage Registrar.
The Bill states that the validity of any Hindu marriage shall not be questioned or affected merely on any mistake or omission in the Shaadi Parat or marriage register; that the marriage register shall be a public document and be open to appropriate public inspection; a penalty shall be placed for violating the bill’s provisions and making false statements in the Shaadi Parat (this includes a simple imprisonment which may extend to one year and a fine of up to one hundred thousand rupees); and the application of Criminal Procedure Code 1898 and Qanoon-e-Shahadatt Order 1984 on all offence cases under the bill. The offences committed with regards to this Act are further deemed non-cognizable and non-compoundable.
Other clauses under the Hindu Marriage Bill 2014 consist of clauses providing the Punjab government six months within the passage of this bill to notify the assembly of the rules for the purpose of furtherance of achieving the objectives and provisions of the Marriage Bill.
Most important for Pakistan’s other religious minorities, the proposed bill defines ‘Hindu’ to include the province’s Buddhist, Jain and Sikh Community. It also contains a clause solemnizing and registering Hindu marriages that have taken place prior to the commencement of this law. Hindu couples in Punjab will therefore have the opportunity to register their marriages and obtain a legal Shaadi Parat from their area’s appointed Marriage Registrar. A prototype of a Shaadi Parat from is attached to the bill and contains questions regarding the particular district or tehsil or union council where the couple resides, the names of their legal parents, date of marriage, national identity card numbers, and number of dependants, matrimonial status, and professed religion. Spaces are also provided for signatures by the bride, bridegroom, registrar and other required witnesses.
Speaking to The News, PML-N MPA Azma Zahid Bokhari said she had attended various forums and dialogues in the past ten years of her parliamentary career, where members of the Hindu community had expressed their need for distinct family laws grounded in their religion and social custom.
Bokhari said it was a pity that Punjab’s Hindus had to make verbal pronouncements of marital bonds, and that these bonds between a Hindu man and a woman were not recognized in the eyes of law.
She said a law was needed to give Hindus rights to marriages regulation via documentation and register, and other matters pertaining to this subject.
Talking to The News, the PML-N MPA said the Women Caucus had consulted with the Hindu Panchayat of Pakistan and gained their approval. She said the Caucus was open to debate on this bill and welcomed any amendments that could make it a stronger and more inclusive legislation.
Bokhari said she was aware of problems regarding the definition of ‘Hindu’ in the bill but felt it was an important step in developing family laws for Punjab’s religious minorities. She said separate marriage laws for Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists would involve a tedious legislative process and complicate matters further. The Caucus coordinator said Pakistan had a small Jain community and this bill should not encourage any sort of religious polarization in the province.
Caucus consultant and renowned columnist Marvi Sirmed told The News that any bill on Hindu Marriage should also consider the issue of divorce. Sirmed said that, in most Brahmin circles, the question of divorce was unheard of and the bill’s silence on this matter was characteristic of this wider attitude. She said the appointment of a marriage registrar from the Brahmin caste would also spell disaster for scheduled Hindu castes who already faced social stigma and discrimination.
However, Sirmed said she was happy that the Women Caucus had drafted legislation helping Hindu couples and was open to criticism and productive debate. She said that, due to the lack of legal documentation, Hindus in Pakistan were inconvenienced in visiting their wives or husbands in the hospitals, when they applied for loans and welfare benefits under government schemes, travel documents for foreign travel and pilgrimage, and other necessary documents. Now at least they would have legal evidence of marriage needed for the exercise of Pakistan’s various constitutional rights, Marvi Sirmed told The News.
The only Hindu MPA in Punjab, PML-N MPA Kanji Raam, said he was delighted that the bill was going to be tabled and said he had been a crucial part of the Women Caucus’s consultations.
Raam told The News that divorce was not a part of Hindu scriptures and was culturally not practiced in Hindu communities. He said if a Hindu woman was being physically abused by her husband and wished to divorce him; she could approach any court in Pakistan and be granted divorce.
The MPA said he was open to the Sikh community amending the bill to suit their community’s religious custom.
PML-N MPA and member of the Sikh community Ramesh Singh Arora told The News that he would voice his criticism when the bill was presented in the Punjab Assembly due to its inclusion of Sikh religion under the ‘Hindu’ label. Singh said he had protested and sent a similar complaint to the Federal Law Department in 2013 when the PPP had tabled a bill on Hindu Marriage Law in a National Assembly session. He said Sikhs formed a major constituency in Pakistan’s national population and needed their own laws.