By PHP Staff
ISLAMABAD : Scheduled Caste Hindus have demanded a separate marriage law for their community.
Speaking at a news conference here on Tuesday Chairperson of the Schedule Caste Hindu Rights Movement (SCRM), Ramesh Jaipal demanded legal protection of their fundamental rights, particularly of Hindu marriage registration, land ownership, equal political participation and protection of religious places and graveyards.
For Hindu families, lack of marriage registration mechanism is a matter of a serious concern, Jaipal said. It’s been more than four years but the demand has only fallen on deaf ears so far. Despite assurances by a number of political and government officials nothing has happened, he said.
“Lower caste” Hindus in Pakistan are officially known as the “scheduled casts” and frequently described as “achhoots” or untouchables. They face dual discrimination, as a minority in a Muslim country and as member of a “lower caste” among fellow Hindus.
They are typically employed in less respected jobs such as fishermen, cobblers, brick makers, and sweepers. Their jobs are usually inherited through generations. Pakistan’s attitude towards “lower caste” Hindus has for long been a case of double standards and denial. But this discrimination is not officially recognised. Hence, there is no legislation against it. And, as a consequence, impunity is widespread, added Jaipal.
Lack of computerised identity cards (CNIC) and marriage registration has resulted in many domestic, social and psychological problems for the Hindu families, especially the female segment. Hindu married couples face numerous problems in travelling and lodging outside of their place of residence.
Due to an absence of CNICs 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 they have been forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men while they were already married to a Hindu. Since there is no documentation to prove the earlier marriage, the woman’s husband or families are unable to take up the issue on legal grounds.
Pakistan is home to 3.4 million schedule caste Hindus also known as Dalits, a minority of 0.25 per cent in a nation of mainly Muslims. According to the 1998 census, upper caste Hindus are just over 2.1m, though these figures are contested by the representatives of the lower caste Hindus.