29 November 2021

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Pakistan’s Hindu Marriage Act returns


Pakistani National Assembly’s Law and Justice Standing Committee recently approved the Hindu Marriage Act, which is set to be placed before the legislature in the coming days. But why is codification of religious belief of such importance? At present, Hindus in Pakistan have no legal proof of their marriage because the law simply does not recognise such a thing. All of a sudden that marriage certificate becomes very noticeably omitted; particularly if you need to prove your marital status abroad, pay taxes, open bank accounts or transfer property. Passing property by will or to legal heirs is treacherous, as kin are not kin and your spouse is simply not. A lack of proof of marriage opens the door to polygamy and exploitation. Penned down, laws bring stability in dealings, order to customs and also recourse to courts.

The new Act posits a basic administrative framework on Hindu marriage, even if greater social needs will be left wanting. Under the new law will be created a register recording Hindu marriages; formalisation will extend to separation, annulment and divorce. But while the legislation is silent on many cultural aspects, it may turn out deleterious on others. Section 17 of the purported Act may punish bigamy, but it raises the question: punish whom? Voiding a legal marriage in the existence of another spouse puts both relationships, legal and not, at par. Essentially, allowing the offender scot-free and leaving the legal spouse destitute.

By no means is the statute as exhaustive as the personal law that pervades India, but certainly a step it is.