On January 25, some 60 Hindu couples tied the knot at a mass wedding in Karachi, Pakistan. The event, a one of a kind in the Islamic Republic, was held at the YMCA Grounds. It was organised by Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) and attended by thousands of Hindus as well as Muslims from all over Pakistan.
Although the ceremony went off peacefully, one significant concern remained for the couples – a concern that has haunted them ever since Pakistan’s independence from British rule: a law for Hindu marriages.
Hindus in Pakistan cannot register their marriages. The absence of a law for Hindu marriages leaves the women of the community open to all forms of exploitation, including forced conversions by fundamentalist groups.
It seems that Hindus in Pakistan will have to live like second-class citizens for some more time especially since a recent, impassioned plea by Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk, a Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) – Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party – leader, failed to convince the National Assembly Standing Committee Law and Justice on ‘National Conference on Hindu Marriage Bill’. It is to be noted that Virk is the chairman of the committee.
Arguing in favour of the Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan, Virk highlighted how Pakistan continues to suppress its minority:
“Nobody can say that a Muslim who is a criminal or terrorist would be ‘a loyal Pakistani’, but it is unfortunate that the loyalty of Hindus is always in question, even though they have done the country no harm.”
In its editorial published on Friday, the Dawn newspaper criticised the political establishment of ignoring the plight of Hindus in the country.
“While many politicians are quick to issue public statements about the rights of minorities in Pakistan, when it comes to taking practical steps to secure these rights, there is very little to show,” it read.
The editorial pointed out that when it comes to proving their relationships for documentation purposes, Hindu women face many problems because of absence of a marriage law. Widows are at an even more disadvantageous situation.
In fact, the absence of registration makes it possible for fundamentalists and nefarious elements in Pakistan to forcibly convert women from the Hindu and other minority communities without the fear of the law.
Many women though married as per traditional Hindu customs are kidnapped and forced to convert, then married off to Muslim men.
It is a real cause of worry for Hindus and other minority communities in Pakistan. What aggravates their problem is that getting justice against ill-treatment is an uphill task for them.
At the time of independence, Pakistan’s non-Muslim population was almost a fourth of the total. It now stands at just 3 per cent, with Hindus comprising 1.6 per cent, or just around 2 million, of the total population.
Nazir S Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, accused “some politicians and religious leaders” for kidnapping young minority women and use them for sexual pleasure”.
“After using these girls, they are then sold in the prostitution underworld. This is a full-scale sex slavery business,” Bhatti alleges.
According to the Associated Press of Pakistan, the government registered 1,261 cases of kidnapping of women and girls, many of them minors, for forced marriage in 2014.
The editorial in Dawn warned the Pakistani political establishment that “failure to take timely action and pass the law will only compound this decades-old injustice and expose our leaders’ claims of respecting minority rights as hollow”.
“…even the Supreme Court has ordered the state to enact the law, (but) lawmakers have failed to do the needful,” the editorial read.
But despite all efforts of the right-thinking members of the Pakistani society, minorities continue to live like unwanted citizens.
Minority leader Bhagwan Das had said in an interview with Al Jazeera that growing religious extremism in Pakistan is fuelling hate crimes.
“If minor Hindu girls are targets in Sindh, minor Christian girls are sitting ducks for the Muslim men of Punjab province,” he said.
Shockingly, some Muslim leaders in Pakistan believe that converting non-Muslim girls is something to be proud of.
Al Jazeera reported in 2014 that the head of the Bharchundi Sharif Shrine, famous for conversions of young Hindu girls, Mian Abdul Malik had converted two Hindu men and 15 Hindu women. After conversion, Hindu women were married off to Muslims.
That minorities are getting abducted, raped, sold to sexual slavery, forcibly converted and married to kidnappers even in the Pakistani Prime Minister’s home province is a telling reminder of how things are for the minorities. Such is the condition that Hindus fear that one day there might not be a single Hindu left in the country.