Pakistan's minority Hindu community has protested the prolonged delay in the approval of a law to register their marriages, saying the lack of legislation affected the inheritance rights of women.
A large group of Hindus joined a protest outside the National Press Club in Islamabad on Thursday and shouted slogans against the government. They also performed a mock Hindu marriage to protest the delay in the approval of the Hindu Marriage Registration Act by parliament.
Shakuntala Devi, an activist of the Scheduled Caste Rights Movement, said Hindu women had suffered for more than six decades due to the absence of any law to protect their matrimonial rights.
"There are no family laws for Hindus. Their marriages are not registered. The women cannot claim their inheritance rights as they cannot produce any evidence of their marriage in court," she told the media.
There were cases of married Hindu women being kidnapped while their husbands were unable to approach the court because they had no documentary evidence of their marriage.
"Women cannot file for divorce nor can they claim custody of their children as men often deny the marriage in court," Shakuntala Devi said. There were also cases of Hindu women being abducted and married off to non-Hindus and even this phenomenon goes unchallenged because there is no law to protect the women, she said.
"The most challenging task is to get our national identity cards. We have to bribe the staff to get the NIC and sometimes, we cannot stay in a hotel because we are unable to produce a marriage registration certificate," she said.
Over 100 members of the minority Hindu community from across Pakistan joined Thursday's protest that was organised by SCRM and ActionAid. Some of the protesters carried placards with their demands and slogans like 'No more delay to marriage registration'.
"What they are demanding is just documentation. It has nothing to do with religion," said Amir Nadeem, a lawyer who joined the protest. He listed several incidents in which Hindu women were denied their legal rights only because they did not have any documents to prove their marriage.
Shakuntala Devi said Hindu women were "constantly victimised" as were deprived of basic social, political and economic rights in the absence of a marriage registration law.
"It has been over four years that we have been waging a struggle for our rights. In 2011, a bill was presented in the National Assembly for a law to register Hindu marriages but so far there has been no progress," she said.
All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement chief Haroon Sarab Diyal said the Hindus prepared the draft legislation in 2009. "The draft was prepared after extensive research on prevailing Hindu marriage laws in India and Nepal and it was made according to the Pakistani constitution but it was never passed by parliament," he said.
The same draft is pending with the Human Rights ministry but landlords and some influential members of the Hindu community, who want the 'panchayat' system to remain in place, were creating hurdles in its passage, Diyal claimed.
He also contended that Hindu lawmakers should be directly elected instead of being "selected" by political parties.