Pakistan is home to 0.34 million Scheduled Caste Hindus also known as Dalits; a minority of 0.25% in a nation of mainly Muslim population.
The representatives of Lower Caste Hindus believe that due to discrimination against them and state’s denial of their rights, their census population is tampered and shown as less than actual. This further marginalises them and excludes them from social and political spheres. According to them, there are currently more than two million Scheduled Caste Hindu Pakistanis.
“Lower caste” Hindus in Pakistan are officially known as “Scheduled Castes” and frequently described as “achoots” or untouchables. They face dual discrimination as a minority in a Muslim country and as “lower caste” among fellow Hindus. They are typical engaged in menial jobs such as fishermen/women, cobblers, brick makers, cleaners and farm workers. Their status as “lower caste” and their ‘professions’ pass on generation after generation. Pakistan’s attitude to “lower caste” Hindus has long been a case of double standards and denial. However, this discrimination is not officially recognised, hence, there is no legislation against it. And, as a consequence, impunity is widespread.
For Hindu families, lack of marriage registration mechanism is a matter of serious concern. Lack of NIC and marriage registration has resulted in many domestic, social and psychological problems for the Hindu families, especially women and girls. Hindu married couples face numerous problems in travelling and lodging outside of their place of residence. Due to an absence of NIC and marriage registration mechanism, scheduled caste Hindu women do not get any share in their husbands’ property, and their access to health facilities and participation in social, economic and political processes is also minimal. According to them, for years Hindu women (already married to Hindi men and having children) have been abducted or forcibly converted to Islam and re-married to Muslim men without their consent. Since there is no documentation to prove the earlier marriage, their husbands or other family members are unable to take up the issue on legal grounds.
SC Hindus have been demanding legislation to register Hindu Marriages for four years…but to date no concrete measures have been taken despite assurances of several political and government officials.
29 July 2008: With the support of ActionAid; SCRM started lobbying and advocating for legislation for Hindu marriage registration. Several consultations, seminars press conferences and rallies were arranged to sensitise media and civil society on the issue.
Oct 2008: A case was filed in the high court to press for the need for such legislation. In addition, legislators at the provincial and national level, Ministry of Human Rights and Ministry of Minority Affairs were contacted and convinced to take the issue forward.
15 Dec 2008: On behalf of SCRM, Advocate Amer Nadeem, an activist for the rights of Scheduled Caste Hindus drafted a Pakistani Hindu Marriages Registration Bill 2009, in consultation with Hindu Religious scholars and Hindu community. Hindu marriage Registration Laws & Rules of India were also referred to. The draft bill was submitted to the Ministry of Minority Affairs & Ministry of Human Rights in order to push them to start the legislation process.
23rd November 2009: When the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) rejected a Hindu woman’s request for a marriage certificate on grounds that ‘no such mechanism or legislation was in place’, SCRM highlighted this issue through various advocacy efforts. On 23rd November 2009, the Chief Justice of Pakistan took Suo Moto action on this burning issue and directed the Government to legislate on the issue of Hindu marriage registration.
28th Feb 2010: The then minister for minority affairs stated on the floor of the National Assembly that the proposed bill would be presented in the assembly within the time period of three months. TO DATE, NO CONCRETE ACTION HAS BEEN TAKEN.
In order to demand action on Supreme Court’s order, and to build civil society’s pressure on the government to start the legislation process to address this long standing problem, SCRM, with an active support of ActionAid Pakistan, has launched a strong campaign in 2011 which involves press conferences, rallies, post card campaign, lobbying meetings and other advocacy tools to push for quick action.