Conversion will not annul a Hindu marriage

Source: Published in Current Affairs on Thursday, February 18, 2016

ISLAMABAD: PML-N MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwami on Wednesday won the support of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights for amending the Hindu Marriage Bill already cleared by a National Assembly committee.

Dr Ramesh had been demanding removal of a clause in the draft Hindu Marriage Bill which stated that a marriage would be dissolved if any of the spouses converted to another religion.

“The clause can be misused to forcefully convert married Hindu women the same way young girls have been kidnapped and forced to convert to other religions,” he pleaded with the Senate committee.

Clause 12 of the bill hit the basic human rights of the Hindus living in Pakistan, he said.

Senator Farhatullah Babar supported annulling ‘the repressive’ clause. “It amounts to promoting forced conversions not only of young unmarried girls but also of married Hindu women. It is a grave human right violation of the Hindus,” said the PPP senator.

Senate committee chairperson Nasreen Jalil of MQM and some others, including senators Sitara Ayaz and Mir Kabir Ahmed Muhammad Shahi, also found the clause repugnant.

However, most committee members were reluctant to accept Dr Ramesh’s proposal that bride and groom must be 18 years of age. His argument was that fixing the age limit would stop kidnapping and conversion of Hindu girls as young as 12. In any case, he added, Hindu boys and girls cannot marry a co-religionist or outside their religion until they are 18. “That is the age the custodianship of their parents ends,” said Dr Kumar.

Chairperson Jalil pointed out, on behalf of some members, that other religious communities had not fixed minimum age for marriage, leaving it to reaching adulthood.

“We better leave that matter to the discretion of the members of the Hindu community,” she said.

Senators Mohsin Khan Leghari and Nisar Muhammad urged Dr Ramesh Kumar to raise his concerns in the National Assembly.

The Hindu Marriage Bill requires married couples to obtain a marriage registration certificate. A couple can be fined for not doing that under the draft law which, when passed, will apply retroactively to existing marriages.

NCHR issue

The Senate body also expressed concerns over what it called attempts to undermine the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR).

Senator Farhatullah Babar said the talk of setting up of a parallel human rights body under the executive would undermine the NCHR created through an Act of the Parliament as independent body. Its chairman and members are selected by a bipartisan parliamentary committee.

Senator Babar had raised the issue through a motion in the Senate. Last week, an official communication from the PM House revealed the plans for a national human rights action plan and another human rights body allocating Rs400 million to it, bypassing the NCHR.

He warned the parliament would resist the maneuvers and called for transferring the Rs400 million to the Special National Human Rights Commission Fund stipulated under the law to enable it to perform its functions.

“This duality and hypocrisy will boomerang on the government, especially when the government was flaunting the NCHR before the European Union for extracting benefits under its GSP Plus,” said the PPP senator.

“It is now quite clear why NCHR was made dysfunctional ever since its establishment by denying it funds,” he said, questioning the government’s commitment to human rights.

Under clause 9 (k) of the NCHR law, he noted, it is the responsibility of the Commission to develop “a national plan of action for the promotion and protection of human rights” and this function could not be usurped by the executive.

NCHR Chairman Ali Nawaz Chohan believed that the prime minister had been misled and demanded copy of the summary on which the prime minister approved the proposal to transfer the work of NCHR to the human rights ministry.

“Rules of Business have been surreptitiously changed to form a parallel human rights body. The prime minister is not being advised correctly about the NCHR functions. Its mandate has been stolen,” said the retired judge, Ali Nawaz Chohan.

Minister for Human Rights Zahid Hamid promised the Senate committee to look into the matter and address the concerns in consultation with NCHR.

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Written by Jamal Shahid

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