Islamabad: Pakistan's Sindh Assembly today passed the Hindu Marriage Bill making the province the first in the country to allow the minority community to register their marriages, amid calls from a leading Hindu group to remove a controversial clause in the landmark bill.
The bill, moved in the assembly by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nisar Khuhro, will apply to entire Sindh province, which has a sizeable population of Hindus.
"Since the creation of Pakistan, it is the first time that such a law is being passed. The decision has been taken to provide mechanism for formally registering Hindu marriages in Sindh," Khuhro said.
It was passed after a national parliamentary panel last week cleared its draft, paving way for registration of marriage and divorce for the Hindu community in Pakistan.
The bill fixes the minimum age of marriage at 18. According to the bill, it is necessary that a marriage is solemnised after consent of both male and female and at least two witnesses must be present at the time of the solemnisation and registration of the marriage.
According to the bill, every marriage being solemnised under this act will be registered with the union council/ward within 45 days of the solemnisation.
The bill should have retrospective effect for the purpose of validation and registration of the marriage prior to this law. Any person who fails to get his marriage registered will be liable to pay a fine of 1,000 rupees.
Other provinces and the federal government need to adopt separate bills to enable Hindu get marriages registered.
The absence of a Hindu Marriage law was a huge hindrance to get marriage certificates, national identity cards and share in property. Hindus in Pakistan have long demanded a separate personal law to regulate their marriages.
But the bill has generated controversy in equal measures over a clause that calls for annulment of marriage if any of the spouses converts their religion.
Ramesh Vankwani, patron in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said the Hindu community in the country was concerned about the clause.
"The objectionable clause 12(iii) of the Hindu Marriage Bill can be used for forced conversions of Hindu girls and women. It states that a marriage could be terminated if either spouse converts to another religion," he said.
"Already we have brought up the issue of forced conversion of Hindu women and girls particularly in rural areas of Sindh with the government and this clause can lead to its misuse," said Vankwani, also a lawmaker of the ruling PML-N party.
There were many instances when Hindu girls were abducted and later presented before court with certificates confirming their conversion and marriage to a Muslim man, he said.
Seeking to put an end to the controversy, chairperson of standing committee on law and justice Nasreen Jalil said she has called a meeting of the committee this week to discuss the concerns expressed by the Hindu community.