Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises all people, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, the right to marry and to found a family; the right to enter into a marriage without force and with the free and full consent of the intending spouses; and the right to protection of the family by both society and State.
Yet Hindu, Sikh, B'hai, and other non-Muslims living in modern day Pakistan are witnessing the breaking of these promises on a daily basis. Millions today are unable to register and obtain official documentation validating their traditional marriages. For these minorities, and especially women, the inability to obtain official recognition of their status as married leaves them particularly vulnerable to forced marriages with Muslim men, in violation of Article 16, and subsequently forced or coerced to convert to Islam (the Declaration unfortunately does not address the right to be free from forced or coerced conversions as a basic human right).
Imagine going through marriage rites and rituals but the government not recognizing your marriage simply because of your religion. Or worse yet, imagine the State deeming you as "single" despite your having gone through your religious tradition's requisite rites and rituals or considering yourself married and then being forcibly converted to Islam and remarried to someone other than your spouse. Unfortunately this is not a hypothetical but a stark reality for too many minority women (and some men) who face this kind of humiliation, exploitation, and discrimination in Pakistan.
Advocate Amer Nadeem, an activist for the rights of Hindus, drafted a Pakistani Hindu Marriage Registration Bill 2009, in consultation with Hindu religious scholars, Hindu community leaders and the Hindu Marriage Registration Laws & Rules of India. The draft bill was submitted to the Ministry of Minority Affairs & Ministry of Human Rights to start the legislative process.
Throughout the deliberations, the print media and several television programs were strategic partners in strengthening the campaign by featuring articles about the issue and showcasing interviews of affected minorities. When the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) rejected a Hindu woman’s request for a marriage certificate on grounds that no mechanism or legislation was present to issue such a certificate to a Hindu, widespread media attention shed further light on the issue.
The Supreme Court in November 2009 directed NADRA to formulate a formal process to allow Hindu couples to be able to obtain NIC (National Identity Cards) and encouraged legislative action in this respect. On March 1, 2010, the Ministry of Minorities stated their intention to create a formalized process within three months, which to date has not been made available (http://hinduexistence.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/bill-for-hindu-marriage-act-to-be-tabled-soon-in-pakistan/).
The Hindu American Foundation, which has been documenting Hindu human rights violations around the globe in its annual human rights report (http://www.hafsite.org/?q=resources/human_rights_report), needs your support in urging Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani to push for passage for the important Pakistani Hindu Marriage Registration Bill.
- Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S.
Ambassador Hussain Haqqani
I write to ask you to use your powers of persuasion to ensure basic human rights of religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan and push for the passage of the Pakistani Hindu Marriage Registration Bill which is due for legislative debate at the end of May. Millions of Hindu, Sikh, B'hai, and other non-Muslims in Pakistan today are unable to obtain official registration of their traditional marriages. For these minorities, and especially women, the inability to obtain official recognition and documents of their status as married women leaves them particularly vulnerable to forced marriages with Muslim men and subsequently forced conversions, violations of two of their basic human rights.
Passage of the Pakistani Hindu Marriage Registration Bill, drafted by advocate Amer Nadeem in conjunction with various Hindu scholars and leaders, is critical in ensuring the stability of minority populations in Pakistan. As you are aware, the National Identity Card (NIC), for example, is essential to a variety of reasons such as temple entry and access to basic healthcare. However, the application for a National Identity Card (NIC) requires proof of marriage, which as of today, many minority couples are unable to provide.
As the United States and Pakistan continue their partnership, and as U.S. aid continues to flow to Pakistan, the basic human rights of minorities in Pakistan must be ensured. The ability to marry and marry freely with full consent is a fundamental human right, as defined in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, this right is currently being denied to the Hindu minority and other religious minorities in Pakistan. The Pakistani Hindu Marriage Bill is the first step in correcting this gross violation. The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which has been documenting the violations faced by Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan in its annual human rights report, has also recommended passage of this important bill as a necessary first step.
It is my sincere hope that you may prevail upon the Pakistani to pass this bill to effect positive and constructive improvements in the lives of Pakistani minorities.
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