Pakistani Senate Passes Hindu Marriage Bill

Pakistani Hindu community will have a personal law for the first time as the Senate has passed ‘The Hindu Marriage Bill 2017’.

Main Provisions:

In accordance with article 144 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Provincial Assemblies of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab adopted resolutions that allow Pakistan’s Federal Parliament to regulate matters that are not under the federal legislative list in the Constitution, thereby allowing application of the bill throughout the country; the bill also extends to the Islamabad Capital Territory.

The bill covers the conditions for Hindu marriages in section 5, stating that “a marriage shall be solemnized” if both parties are at least 18 years old, there is free consent of both parties, “the parties are not within the prohibited degrees of relationship”, and neither party has a living spouse at the time of the marriage.

The bill also states that the marriage “may be solemnized in a manner prevalent within the customary rights and ceremonies of either party.”

A marriage certificate called “Shadi Parat,” similar to the Nikahnama of Muslims, will be issued for all Hindu marriages.

The Shadi Parat also proves instrumental in reducing the risk of forced second marriages, as the Hindu woman can give documentary proof of her first marriage, without which she would be unable to protect herself from an illegal and forced second marriage.

Although either spouse may petition for divorce due to desertion, if a Hindu wife is the recipient of a petition for divorce from which she will suffer grave financial hardship, she may oppose the grant of the decree before a court.

Under section 17 of the bill, a Hindu widow “shall have the right to re-marry of her own will and consent after the death of her husband provided a period of six months has lapsed after the husband’s death.”

The bill also gives separated Hindu widows the right to remarry. If a Hindu woman is deprived of her marital rights, she may contest the marriage in a court of law.

Under section 4(d), two concurrent marriages are unlawful, and any violation of the Hindu Marriage Act would result in prosecution for the offense of bigamy as per sections 494 and 495 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The first wife in such cases also has the right to terminate her marriage on the grounds of bigamy. However, the bill also provides that the only exception to the ban on a polygamous or concurrent marriage is if a female spouse is medically declared to be unable to conceive children.

The bill provides for penalties for violating any of its provisions. The official recognition of a Hindu marriage quells issues of legitimacy and inheritance by recognizing that all children born to the marriage are legitimate and establishes a clear line of succession to inheritance. The draft legislation also ensures that children who were born prior to the passage of the bill are legitimate.

Other Information:

The Hindu minority in Pakistan is estimated to be about 1.6% of the population, and they are mostly concentrated in Sindh Province.

Sindh was the first province to pass legislation for the registration of Hindu and other non-Muslim marriages, namely, the Sindh Hindu Marriage Bill, later enacted as the Sindh Hindu Marriage Registration Act 2016.