Pakistani lawmakers' lack of political will to pass the pending Hindu marriage bill despite a Supreme Court directive came in for criticism today, with a leading newspaper questioning the government's commitment to minority rights, especially for Hindu women.
"While many politicians are quick to issue public statements about the rights of minorities in Pakistan, when it comes to taking practical steps to secure these rights, there is very little to show," Dawn newspaper said in a scathing editorial.
"A prime example of this strange paradox is the decades-old issue of legislation related to Hindu marriage," it said, highlighting that the "legal vacuum that created a multitude of issues especially for minority communities."
A bill on Hindu marriage was jointly presented in the parliament in 2014 by Ramesh Lal of opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Darshan of ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). A separate but similar government bill was tabled in parliament by Law Minister Pervaiz Rashid in March 2015.
The Hindu women have to face problems in proving their relationships when dealing with officials, while widows are particularly disadvantaged, it said.
The editorial noted that this issue was highlighted by the chairman of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Law and Justice at a seminar in Islamabad on Wednesday which is supposed to approve the pending Hindu marriage bill to be tabled in the house.
"Without official proof of relationships, getting government documents issued or moving forward on any other activity which involves documentation - from opening bank accounts to applying for visas - becomes next to impossible for any citizen," it said.
It said that these issues were a reason for conversion as some experts point out that forced conversions are also facilitated by the lack of documentation of Hindu marriages.
Despite the fact that even the Supreme Court has ordered the state to enact the law, lawmakers have failed to do the needful, the editorial noted.
Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have passed the requisite resolutions, but the Sindh and Punjab assemblies have not yet done so.
"This tardiness and lack of political will are inexcusable. If the parties leading the Sindh and Punjab governments are serious about their commitment to minority rights, they should pass the resolutions without further delay in order to do away with the hurdles in the way of a Hindu marriage law," it said.
Sindh should show particular alacrity, as most of Pakistan's Hindus reside in this province.