After decades of delay and inaction, the Hindu minority community in Pakistan will soon have a marriage law as a parliamentary panel has unanimously approved the Hindu Marriage Bill.

 The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice yesterday passed the final draft of Hindu Marriage Bill 2015, where five Hindu lawmakers were specially invited. 

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Though the delaying tactics continued almost to the last, the committee adopted the bill unanimously after making two amendments to fix the minimum age of the marrying male and female at 18 and making the law applicable to the whole country, Dawn news reported. 

The bill will now be tabled in the National Assembly where it has fair chances of being passed as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party is supporting it. Committee Chairman Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk expressed regret over the long-drawn tactical delay in framing family law for the Hindu community. 

“It was unbecoming of us Muslims in general and the political leaders in particular. We were required to facilitate the legislation, not obstruct it. If we 99 per cent of the population are afraid of one per cent, we need to look deep inside what we claim to be and what we are,” he said. 

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Virk and ruling PML-N lawmaker Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani had been pushing for approving the bill but members of other parliamentary parties persisted with raising objections. Shagufta Jumani of Pakistan People’s Party and Ali Mohammad Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf raised many queries about minimum age of a Hindu girl to be married and the status of marriage if any of the partners converted to Islam. 

“Under the banner of Pakistan Hindu Council, I arrange mass marriage of around 100 girls every year and we clearly deny marriage of even an orphan who is under 18. People do not insist on marrying anyone below 18 years,” Vankwani said.

He wanted to drop a clause in the bill that said the marriage will be nullified if any of the partners converted to Islam. It was inserted by the Council of Islamic Ideology when the bill was sent for ‘Sharia vetting’ some six months ago. 

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“Why a Hindu and a Muslim or Christian cannot live together as happily married couple?,” Vankwani said. His suggestion to drop the clause met stern resistance from Jumani and Khan after which Committee Chairman stopped the discussion to avoid “total collapse” of the meeting. 

“If Hindu boys and girls elsewhere can marry into other religions why this cannot be a reality here?,” Vankwani said, adding that open-mindedness is required in the society. After the 18th Amendment, issues relating to religious minorities and their family matters became provincial subjects. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have passed the requisite resolutions, but the Sindh and Punjab assemblies have not yet done so.