Pakistan's Hindu Marriage Bill vs India's Hindu Marriage Act: Which one is more progressive

Pakistan's law prohibits bigamy under certain circumstances if the wife is alive, while in India marrying again if the partner is alive is a punishable offense in most cases.

A senate committee in Pakistan on Monday approved a bill that would allow Hindus in the predominantly Muslim country to legally marry, in a move seen as a boost for minority rights in the Islamic country.

The Hindu Marriage Bill was passed by the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights, nearly four months after it was passed by the country’s lower house. The bill will now be tabled in the Senate, the upper house of Pakistan’s bicameral legislature.

Once enacted into law, the Hindu Marriage Bill will allow Hindus to enjoy similar marriage rights as they enjoy in India, and which have been denied to Pakistan’s two million Hindus since partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

According to a news report, the passing of the bill by the senate committee was met with rapturous thumping of desks from all those present in the room in the Parliament House where the bill was being discussed.

Here are some salient features of Pakistan’s Hindu Marriage Bill, as reported by news media outlets:

  • Hindus will be able to register their marriages and appeal to the court in case they want to separate.
  • It specifies the minimum age of tying the knot, which is 18 years.
  • It will allow Hindu widows to re-marry, in case the husband is dead but only after a period of six months from the date of death. Enshrined in Clause 17 of Pakistan’s bill, the rule clears air around the widow’s right to remarry, which is still frowned upon by some orthodox Hindus.
  • It makes it relatively easy for women to file for divorce if they discover that their men have another marriage, while men will have to prove that they are able to pay an alimony before they could file for divorce.
  • It doesn’t abolish bigamy entirely, if the man going for the second marriage is able to point out a medical condition that’s prohibiting the couple from conceiving children.

On the other hand, India’s longstanding Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 says

  • While it does clearly state the legal age of marrying as 21 for men and 18 for women, there is a loophole which allows children under 18 to get married. A marriage involving minors has to be reported to authorities in order for it be voided.
  • In India, bigamy is a punishable offense and is not allowed under law. According to Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, bigamy is allowed when
  1. the first husband or wife is dead, or
  2. the first marriage has been voided by the court
  3. the partner hasn’t been in touch for a period of seven years

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a Hindu parliamentarian in the lower house reportedly reacted,

“Today, we are proud to be Hindu Pakistanis after the approval of the bill. Hindus will now be able to get registered their marriages and also apply for divorce under family laws.”