Landmark bill passed by Pakistani assembly recognizes Hindu marriages and protects women’s rights.

After decades of delays, Hindu couples in Pakistan will finally have their marriages officially recognized. Until now, Hindus in Pakistan had a very tough time due to their marriages not receiving legal sanction. But now, a landmark bill addressing the issue has finally been passed by the Pakistani parliament, much to the relief and joy of the nation's 1.6 percent Hindu population.

Human rights activists have been fighting for concrete marriage laws for Hindus from a very long time now. The absense of clear legal guidelines left Hindu women vulnerable to attacks from non-Hindus. Often, married women have been carried off and converted to Islam, simply because their marriage was not officially recognized by the nation. Hindu couples would find it difficult, almost impossible, to obtain important documents. As such, their activities and rights have been very limited.

The bill, which got official approval from the Pakistan Lower House of Parliament is now awaiting sanction from the Senate. If sources are to be relied on, the Senate's approval will not take much time. The Pakistani Hindu community has finally won a battle it has been fighting for decades. The passing of this bill has always been delayed, facing major setbacks in the parliament. However, now, the community hopes for better treatment by legal authorities.

Once the bill is officially accepted by the Senate, Hindus will receive concrete frameworks for their weddings. As such, young couples, especially the bride can be rest assured of fair treatment by law. Issues such as divorce, and more importantly, forced marriage to Muslims and conversion to Islam can be addressed more clearly.

Women have been the worst hit by the absence of Hindu marriage laws in Pakistan. The new law will allow Hindus to marry beginning at 18. Other religions have a minimum of 18 for men and 16 for women. The fine for marrying younger is up to 6 months in jail and a fine. Widows will now be able to claim benefits and will be allowed to remarry after 6 months. Divorce will be legal and women can file if they are the victims of “negligence, bigamy or having been married before 18.”

After the bill has passed, the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zohra Yusuf said, "Once marriages are registered, at least they have certain rights that are ensured." Not only will Hindu couples benefit from the bill, but also Hindu widows who couldn’t provide proof of their marriages will now be able to obtain welfare and remarry.

The Bill will be of great help to Hindu women, especially in cases of forced conversions. So far, the community's pleas in such cases have been ignored in courts due to lack of sufficient legal framework.

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