Pakistan Hindu Marriage Bill
A bride and groom wearing traditional handmade garlands wait for their wedding to start during a mass marriage ceremony in Karachi, PakistanAkhtar Soomro/Reuters file photo

The Pakistani government has approved a special bill to legislate Hindu marriages after several decades of delay. The Hindu Marriage Bill was given the green light by a key parliamentary panel and is now awaiting approval of the assembly.

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice formally accepted the proposals of the bill on 8 February. The draft was adopted by the panel, headed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker Chaudhry Mehmood Bashir Virk, after two minor amendments. Five Hindu representatives were also invited to take part in the decision-making process.

Lack of marriage registration was a major cause of concern for the minority Hindu community in Pakistan. Ever since the country got independence from Britain in 1947 and became a separate nation, Hindu marriages and divorces were not registered.

"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% of the population are afraid of 1%, we need to look deep inside what we claim to be and what we are," Virk told the Pakistani daily Dawn.

The bill, a longstanding demand by Pakistani Hindus, is likely to be passed by the National Assembly as the ruling PML-N is rallying behind the move. "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. Now people know it and they do not insist on marrying girls or boys below 18 years," Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a Hindu community representative, responded when asked about the problems of underage marriages by Virk during the committee's meeting. Hindus account for less than 2% of Pakistan's population, which is largely Muslims. Majority of Hindus live in Sindh province of Pakistan.