not so happy Khushpur
Amendment and devolution
As per the record in one madrassa in Lahore alone, 678 Christians converted to Islam in 2009, 693 in 2010 while 95 Christians have embraced Islam this year
By Aoun Sahi
On a sunny afternoon in the second week of February 2011, 45-year-old Azra Bibi, clad in black shawl, entered the reception of Jamia Naeemia with her ten year old son, a leading Sunni-Barelvi madrassa situated in a congested area of Lahore. Accompanied by a 45-year-old Muslim witness Chaudhry Muhammad Islam, Azra a recent convert to Islam along with her six children asked for the imam of the Jamia. She has come here to get proper documents to prove in the court that she was no longer a Christian.
The young receptionist at Jamia Naeemia talks to the principal on telephone, opens the side drawer of his dented metal table and pulls out a two-inch-thick book wrapped in a blue cover. He finds a blank page and starts writing her details.
The book is a registry used to keep record of religious conversions to Islam. One book is enough to record 100 cases of conversions. A newly-built wooden cabinet brimming with many such books is used to store the record. Officials at the Madrassa say the number of people converting from other religions, especially Christianity, to Islam is on the rise here. At least 50 to 60 Christians embrace Islam each month by signing a white and green paper on the book declaring that they accept Islam without any greed or pressure and promise to ‘remain in the religion of Islam for the rest of the life’, and will try to spend life according to the principles of Islam.
Raghib Naeemi, principal Jamia Naeemia, says that his institute has no department for preaching. “All those who convert to Islam come to Jamia on their own, accompanied by some Muslims of their locality as witnesses. We have made it a prerequisite for the aspirant converts to submit an affidavit declaring that they are embracing Islam without greed or force.” He says that all Christians who convert to Islam do not do so because they like this religion. “Some of them convert to Islam because they want to end their marriage which is not easy in Christianity, or they want to marry a cousin or a Muslim girl or boy. Over 90 per cent of the converts are illiterate.”
The record at Jamia Naeemia reveals that 678 Christians converted to Islam in 2009, the number reached 693 in 2010 while 95 Christians have so far embraced Islam this year.
Badshahi Mosque is another institution that issues certificate to those who convert to Islam. Muhammad Yousuf, assistant protocol officer at the mosque, says rarely a day goes without some cases of conversion. “Sometimes dozens of people convert to Islam during a day. Overwhelming, majority of them come from Christian minority,” he tells TNS.
Peter Jacob, Executive Director of National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), an advocacy organisation funded by the Catholic Church, says it is no surprise some of Pakistan’s three millions Christians are adopting Islam nowadays. “These are troublesome and dangerous days for the country’s religious minorities. People have no faith in the police or the justice system and the kind of fear that exists now was never there before,” he says.
Legally, there is no bar on religious conversion. “But in Pakistan only one-way conversion to Islam is allowed that can be very fatal to religious diversity in the country. It is not only Christians in Pakistan who are scared. All minorities are under pressure.”
Jacob thinks that security has become a major reason for marginalised and discriminated Christian community to convert to Islam. “Blasphemy laws are also being misused to pressurise Christians to convert to Islam.”
Last month Shahbaz Bhatti, the only minister in federal cabinet belonging to a minority religion, was assassinated in Islamabad. Taliban reportedly claimed responsibility for the killing, saying the minister had been “punished” for being a blasphemer.
Azra Bibi -- whose husband remains Christian and lives separately from his wife and children -- says that she has converted to Islam only because she feels it is the most beautiful religion. “Now, it feels great and I have moved to a Muslim neighbourhood. I feel safer.” A woman from the neighbourhood comes to them daily after dinner to teach her and her children Islam and its practices.
That day at the Madrassa, as Azra Bibi collected her certificate declaring her a Muslim and prepared to leave, a young couple entered the reception. Parvaiz Masih, a 23-year-old auto rickshaw driver and his 22-year-old cousin Nasreen seemed in a hurry to convert to Islam. But the officials at Jamia were hesitant as they did not have two Muslim witnesses accompanying them. “”I like Islam and want to embrace it. I want to be known as Muhammad Parvaiz. I will be secure now and will take decisions of my choice after converting to Islam”.
Masih’s reference was her marriage to his cousin, Nasreen -- who had slipped away from her home to come to Jamia with him. She was hesitant to elaborate why she wanted to convert to Islam. “I like Islam,” was all she said.
Joseph Francis, National Director, Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), believes that all these conversions are forced. “Jamia Naeemia or Badshahi Mosque officials do not look into the reasons why people have been converting to Islam. We have also found that in many cases young Christian girls are abducted and married off to Muslim men. They are also forced to change their religion and there is no process available to get them released as once they are declared Muslims, they cannot come back to Christianity.” He says his organisation had received seven such cases in 2008, four in 2009 and six in 2010.
The preamble to the constitution of Pakistan guarantees that adequate provision shall be made for minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their culture. The Enforcement of Shariah Act 1991 was promulgated on June 18, 1991 whereby the Islamic Shariah was enforced as the supreme law of the land. But under clause 4 of Section 1, it was provided that “Nothing contained in this Act shall affect the personal laws, religious freedom, traditions, customs and way of life of the non-Muslims.”
But the situation on ground is altogether different. For instance, Tahir Iqbal, a Muslim who converted to Christianity was accused of committing blasphemy in 1990 in Lahore. Then additional session judge of Lahore dismissed his bail application on July 7, 1991, and passed the following order:
“Learned counsel for the petitioner has conceded before me that the petitioner has converted to Christianity. With this admission on the part of the petitioner’s counsel there is no need to probe further into allegations. Since conversion is in itself a cognizable offence involving serious implications, I do not consider the petitioner is entitled to bail at this stage”. Interestingly, there is no law in Pakistan that makes conversion from Islam to any other religion an offence.
Human Right activists say there is no mechanism to gauge whether the Christians converting to Islam have been doing it under their own free will or duress. “We receive many cases every year in which Christian girls are abducted and forced to marry Muslim men,” I.A. Rehman, Director Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, tells TNS. “Security is a major reason these days for minorities to convert to Islam. We have registered cases in which people are deprived of their jobs on the basis of their faith, admissions to colleges and schools are denied and then there are social taboos that result in discrimination. All these factors can lead to religious conversion.”
Over 110-year-old village of Shahbaz Bhatti has a history of struggle against religious discrimination and blasphemy laws
By Waqar Gillani
March 4. The narrow, zigzagging road connecting Faisalabad with Khushpur in central Punjab is dotted with trolleys, buses and wagons carrying thousands of people, mainly poor Christians -- all mourning the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian minister for minority affairs, who was ‘silenced’ forever for speaking out in support of religious harmony. They were on their way to attend his funeral.
Bhatti’s village Khushpur, meaning a place of happy people, is also known as Chak 51 GB. It comprises predominantly Catholic Christian population, “about 99 per cent,” according to Priest Anjum Nazir, the custodian of the village church.
Over 110 years old, Khushpur is about 20 kilometers from Gojra -- a place where a Christian locality was burnt down on an alleged blasphemy act attributed to some Christian children in 2009.
“Khushpur has a history of struggling against religious discrimination and blasphemy laws,” the priest says, adding, “We want to develop Pakistan as a state which allows religious freedoms.”
Bhatti, 42, was gunned down in his official car while going from his house in Sector I-8, Islamabad, to his mother’s residence nearby on March 2. Bhatti, who was also heading All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) -- a non-government organisation working for minority rights -- was a vocal voice against the country’s discriminatory blasphemy laws, religious discriminations and violence against minorities for over 26 years.
He was targeted after the killing of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer who stood for a Christian woman Aasia Bibi accused of blasphemy and convicted by a local court. Bhatti, following the same line, wanted pardon for Aasia Bibi and also wanted blasphemy laws reviewed and ultimately repealed. The clergy and Islamic organisations stood up against this move.
Former Faisalabad Bishop, Dr Joseph, known as the “Awami Bishop”, was also born in this village in 1930s. He shot himself in the head in front of the Sahiwal local sessions court in May 1998, to protest the death sentence given to an alleged Christian blasphemer, Ayub Masih. The sessions court had sentenced Ayub Masih to death while Supreme Court acquitted him in August 2002.
The growing number of rape cases, the desecration of minority worship places, bulldozing of graveyards and settlements and trumped up blasphemy charges against Christian villagers were issues that Dr Joseph was concerned about.
A day before committing suicide, Dr Joseph wrote a letter titled “The final step against 295 C” to local newspapers on the official paper of the Faisalabad Catholic Diocese. The letter concluded with the following words: “295 C is the greatest block in the good and harmonious ties between Muslims and the religious minorities of Pakistan. In order to achieve national harmony, let us give a mighty push to this immense boulder before it crushes us all. Once this obstacle is overcome, each Pakistani will be able to live and work in peace for the prosperity of our beloved Pakistan. Let us pray continuously for it, publicly and in private, throughout the country. Amen.”
Father George Peter Ibrahim, resident of the same village, was also shot dead in district Okara in 2003 when he was in his official house, for raising voice against religious discrimination.
Shahbaz Bhatti, son of Master Jacob Bhatti, a former lower-rank army officer who later became a schoolteacher in the village earning good repute, was born in this village and studied in the missionary-turned government school where his funeral ceremony took place on March 4, 2011. Bhatti did masters in Political Science and International Relations and fought against religious discrimination throughout his life.
“Bhatti always secured high marks in school examination and actively participated in ceremonies on Pakistan Day and Independence Day where he used to make speeches for the country and its dignity and progress,” slain minister’s cousin, Dr Patrick Joseph, tells TNS. “I still remember when he was praised by teachers and his father on making a patriotic speech in this school as a student of grade nine.”
“An honest and bright boy with lot of love for humanity and society, Bhatti was grace of not only this village but Pakistan,” says Father Andrew Nisari. “I see more darkness in coming days. Are we heading for fanaticism, extremism and civil war?”
Many priests, with tears in their eyes and anger in their hearts, seemed unable to talk. “Don’t hide the real issue and sacrifice of Bhatti by terming it a political murder. It was not a political murder. Bhatti was killed for speaking up for the rights of minorities. His killers have committed a great sin,” Bishop Alexander John Malik said while addressing the ceremony. “The government has failed to protect the rights of minorities.”
“We respect every religion and every prophet. Christianity always preached peace and harmony. Christianity has never issued decrees to kill anybody in the name of religion,” said Father Pervez Emanuel while delivering his message to the mourners. “We are against the misuse of this blasphemy law. We are against fake and fabricated cases to set personal scores or take revenges. We are against those people who tear pages of Holy Book (Quran) and throw them in Christians’ houses. A society that does not allow raising questions or criticism is a dead society.”
The streets of Khushpur, with black flag on every house and almost every tree, were filled with mourners chanting slogans “Long live Shahbaz Bhatti, Bhatti’s killer must be hanged and Shahbaz’s blood will lead to revolution.”
“Bhatti is leader of our movement,” says Rohael Gill, a childhood friend and companion of Bhatti. “His death is a source of inspiration for all. He will live forever and his mission will continue.”
A tactical defeat
By Masud Alam
I know Pakistan cricket well because I’ve been watching it keenly for decades. Which is why I was hugely relieved at the drubbing it got from Kiwis last week.
This team has precious few consistencies and one of them is requiring senseless humiliation to precede every victory. The opposite is not always true, mind you. One humiliation may follow another and another. The men in green, even with the addition of crescent-and-star all across their front, have infinite capacity to absorb shame, be it deserved or undeserved. But one of these humiliations spurs them into reverse with as much intensity. I’m hoping this beating will be the one.
In fact I have a good feeling this defeat was engineered by Afridi and his men in self-defense. Blaming it all on Kamran Akmal is missing the point entirely. That the only team-work on display was in the way every man contributed to the team’s abject capitulation. Every one of them, except one, screwed up. Kamran was only the first to be noticed, although it wasn’t his fault that the batsman he dropped twice went on to score a century.
The boys are desperate to get to the semi final stage. Adding to their anxiety was the fact that they were unbeaten in three games. With three more to go, they were assured a place in quarter finals, but also scared by the thought that humiliation is expected any day now, and if not pre-empted, it will most likely strike in the quarters, blocking the march towards the ultimate prize. And it could be pre-empted only by staging a humiliation in the initial round. And New Zealand was obviously a better side to lose to in comparison with Zimbabwe.
The plan was put in place with the first ball of the game, which was delivered by Shoaib Akhter and was a no ball. When the umpire failed to notice it, the Pindi Express delivered three more in his first spell and each time the free hit resulted in a boundary. In mid-overs he dished out another boundary to New Zealand by needlessly throwing the ball at the wickets, miles away from the keeper or any other fielder. And towards the end, he got kicked around as mercilessly as any part-time bowler.
It was followed by consistently bad fielding, more atrocious bowling, and solidly mediocre batting. It was a concerted campaign, consistent throughout in its objective. But when the journalists in post-match briefing made repeated reference to Kamran’s droppings, the coach had to speak out in his defence: “He is a fine player. He was just having a bad day.” Come on coach, it was more like 11 players having a bad day on the same day.
There were some who secretly opposed the self-defeat scheme and made timid efforts at playing their normal game. Umer Akmal was good, Razzaq was composed and in control, even Afridi seemed promising, well relatively speaking. But they were all playing their solo game. None of the pairs seemed to like each other’s company and kept walking away in a huff. Umer lost his wicket to a shot that was played out of utter boredom with Razzaq’s too-cool attitude.
Umer Gul was the only one who bowled independently, batted with courage, and didn’t mind the indifference of his mate Razzaq. If anything, he injected some life into the ageing master blaster with his fine hitting and positive intent.
In the end Pakistan lost by 110 runs. It was just the kind of humiliation Afridi and I believe will fill the team’s belly with fire that will then hopefully last till the final.
There are two matches left in this round. Against the underdogs Zimbabwe tomorrow and the mighty Australia on Saturday. If the gamble works for Afridi, Pakistan can easily beat the latter, and if it doesn’t, it can lose miserably to the former.
SC’s order rejecting Parliamentary Committee’s decision has brought into the limelight the highly controversial mechanism for appointment of judges
By Reema Omer
On March 4, a 4-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan dismissed the Parliamentary Committee’s (PC) decision to reject the continuation of service of six high court judges as recommended by the Judicial Commission (JC). The SC directed the government to issue appointment notifications of the rejected judges, refusing to accept that eight members of parliament could trump recommendations of the 13-member Judicial Commission comprising five senior members of the country’s superior judiciary including the chief justice.
This move has once again brought into the limelight the highly controversial mechanism for appointment of judges as specified by the 18th and 19th Amendments and has pitted the parliament and judiciary against each other. The Bar has also reacted strongly to the order, with the President of the SCBA Asma Jahangir taking “strong exception” to the judgement and calling it an attack on parliamentary sovereignty.
The Supreme Court’s order has roots in the 18th and 19th amendments to the Pakistani constitution, and a brief look at what transpired in the same would make the order easier to understand.
The 18th Amendment -- widely celebrated in the country because it abolished the concurrent list, strengthened provincial autonomy, and empowered the parliament -- also changed the mechanism for appointment of judges. The amendment created a new body -- the Judicial Commission -- to nominate to the Parliamentary Committee one person for each vacancy in the superior courts. The Parliamentary Committee was to consist of four senators and four MNAs and could either confirm the nominee of the Judicial Commission by majority of its total membership within 14 days or could reject the nominee by 3/4th majority of its total membership in which case the Judicial Commission would have to send a fresh nomination. In case of confirmation, the PC was to forward the name of nominee to the president for appointment.
The composition as well as the power of the JC in relation to the PC was immediately challenged in the Supreme Court. In its interim order of October 21, 2010, the SC requested the parliament to reconsider Article 175-A in the 18th Amendment “to ensure that the appointment process is in consonance with the concept of the independence of judiciary, separation of powers and to make it workable…” The order also recommended that the PC should hold in-camera meetings and record reasons for rejecting names proposed by the Judicial Commission.
Most importantly, however, the order expressed concerns that the PC, comprising entirely of parliamentarians, could over-rule the decision of the JC, which comprised largely of experienced judges, and suggested that the Supreme Court should be the final arbiter if there was a disagreement between the two bodies.
The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR) addressed these concerns and agreed to most recommendations of the SC except that the Parliamentary Committee’s decisions and reasons thereof should be justiciable.
As a result, the constitutional scheme as amended by the 19th Amendment provided that the Judicial Commission would consist of four senior most judges of the Supreme Court instead of previously two and that the Parliamentary Committee would record its reasons for rejecting a nominee of Judicial Commission and forward its decision with said reasons to the Judicial Commission. However, the 19th Amendment unequivocally made the decision of the Parliamentary Committee final and binding on the JC.
It should be noted that the SC in Pakistan has the power to invalidate laws made by parliament if they contradict the constitution. Unlike the Indian Supreme Court, however, which can even reject constitutional amendments if they go against the “basic structure” of the Indian Constitution, the Pakistani courts have no such power. The “basic structure doctrine”, in fact, has been time and again rejected by our Supreme Court and even during the hearing of the challenge to the 18th Amendment, the Court did not decide otherwise. The SC, therefore, is bound to uphold the constitution including all constitutional amendments, even if it feels a particular amendment may work against independence of the judiciary.
The Supreme Court may, of course, exercise its right of “judicial review” over the Parliamentary Committee’s decisions. It must be kept in mind, however, that judicial review is largely a matter of procedure to ensure decisions taken by administrative staff are procedurally fair and rational -- judicial review does not allow courts to be the final arbiters of the ultimate decision of the administrative body itself.
The PC chose to reject the JC’s recommendations based on the opinions expressed by the Chief Justices of the Lahore and Sind High Courts which called into questions the competency of the nominated judges, a reason that prima facie seems “reasonable”. The SC’s concern about members of parliament over-ruling the decision of the JC and the Chief Justice of Pakistan, however, does not fall within the purview of judicial review.
In light of the 19th Amendment, therefore, the PC is the final decision-making body for appointment of judges. While an argument may be made for the Parliamentary Committee to give reasons for its decisions, especially when it rejects the Judicial Commission’s nominations, it seems quite clear that the 19th Amendment does not allow the Supreme Court to be the final arbiter on the matter if there is a disagreement between the PC and JC.
An unbiased process of judicial appointment is integral to the independence of judiciary. If there is consensus that the Parliamentary Committee’s final say over judicial appointments makes appointments susceptible to being politically motivated, there must be a movement calling for a change in Article 175-A of the constitution. The Supreme Court’s taking the matter in its own hands and bypassing the constitution to defend it, achieves little and ends up putting the judiciary and parliament in an unpleasant confrontation.
The writer is a
lawyer holding an LLM from the University of Cambridge and is currently
working with the International Commission of Jurists.
Email: [email protected]
Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi was a rare religio-political scholar who died as a progressive visionary
By Amir Riaz
Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi, born on March 10, 1872, was one of the rare religio-political scholars in the first half of 20th century. Unlike his contemporaries, he directly observed covert and overt political agendas of numerous countries like the purported Islamic Afghanistan, revolutionary Soviet Union, Ottomans, Germany, Kemalist Turkey and the newly-emerged sacred Saudi Arabia.
The Maulana also gazed inside three major shifts in the post-World War One scenario. In 1915, he joined the first provisional government of India as interior minister, overtly sponsored by Turko-German alliance. Raja Mahindra Partab was lifelong president of that provisional government. In early 1920s, he went to Russia and negotiated with Bolsheviks. In 1924, he monitored disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and witnessed the Kemalist revolution of Ataturk.
He wrote his changed vision regarding future politics at home and penned down a preliminary draft of a charter based on acceptance of religio-sectarian, linguistic and cultural diversities. In 1927, he was in Saudi Arabia where he closely observed Najadies and the Saudi Kingdom. Ironically, the Saudi government granted him permission to stay in the kingdom on one condition -- not to indulge in politics. In 1939, he came back after 25 years of self-exile and shared his vision with his comrades, but neither Jamiat Ulemae Hind nor All India Congress was ready to listen to him.
Maulana Sindhi was born in the ancient Punjabi city of Sialkot, 23 years after the annexation of Punjab on March 29, 1849. Boota Singh (later Maulana Sindhi) inherited resistance against the British rulers from his family. M. Hajjan Sheikh in his PhD dissertation (published by National Institute of Historical Research, Islamabad 1986) translated a piece written by the Maulana:
“Besides the old files of the “Punjabi”, I used to read “Aftab-e-Punjab”, “Koh-i-Noor” and “Akhbar-e-Aam”. In the history of Punjab, I studied the account of Sikh government with profound interest and, in fact, took pride in being a Sikh. In my childhood, I would often go to the relatives of Divan Mulraj (Mulraj Chopra was Governor of Multan appointed by Lahore Darbar) when our ladies visited them and stories current about him fascinated me. I used to read in detail the Annual Report of the Punjab Government published in Urdu. I remember how overjoyed we were when the news that Raja Dalip Singh had been permitted to return to Punjab was brought by my uncle. The whole family rejoiced on this news.”
Due to secular traditions in his family, the Maulana embraced Islam at the age of 16 and made his Baiat (allegiance) at the hands of a spiritual guide Hafiz Muhammad Sadiq who belonged to Qadiriya Rashidiya order of Sufis. His inquisitive mind brought him to Deoband in October 1888, yet he could not stay there for long and came to Amrot in February 1889 and stayed with his spiritual leader Maulana Taj Muhammad of Amrot in Sindh.
Taj Muhammad had a very rich library which enabled the young scholar to increase his intellectual thirst. At Amrot, the Maulana installed a printing press and published some rare books. In 1901, he established Dar-al-Rushd where he stayed for seven years as head of the institution.
In 1908, Dar-al-Rushd organised a ceremony for the first batch, presided by an Arab scholar Sheikh Hussain bin Muhsin al-Yamani from Bhopal. Maulana Mahmudul Hassan was co-examiner with Yamani there.
In his recent book Sectarian War, eminent scholar Khaled Ahmad has traced Shia and Ahle Hadith extremist trends among the ruling classes of Bhopal and Awadh back in late 18th and 19th centuries.
The life of young Maulana Sindhi took a new turn when he came to Deoband and worked with Jamiat-al-Ansar for four years under the instructions of Mahmudul Hassan. This organisation wanted to get help from anti-British countries and groups by making contacts with armed revolutionaries of the Punjab, Bengal and rulers and tribals in Afghanistan.
In 1910, Mahmudul Hassan organised a Jalsa-e-Dastarbandi in which, for the first time, a delegation from M.A.O College Aligarh was allowed to come to Deoband. It was a well-attended procession with more than 30,000 people belonging to diverse school of thoughts and groups.
In 1911, the party organised an open show of strength which disturbed not only the British authorities but also alerted a strong section within Deoband administration. In 1912, the conflict within Darul Uloom surfaced when Deoband administration invited Lieutenant Governor Sir James Meston without the consent of Mahmudul Hassan. Many renowned Ulema of Deoband supported the administration’s point of view and showed their reservations against Jamiat-al-Ansar and Mahmudul Hassan.
The administration block started a campaign to target Maulana Sindhi, especially his vision of Islam. Finally, they succeeded and Maulana was removed not only from Darul Uloom but also from Jamiat-al-Ansar.
Maulana Sindhi left for Delhi and formed Nizaratul Muaraf with the support of Hakim Ajmal Khan who had a different Muslim legacy politically close to Muslim League and ideologically close to Sufis. Unlike hardliners, Hakim Ajmal Khan believed in learning from the West while acknowledging the East. He was among the founding fathers of All India Muslim League (1906) from the Punjab.
Maulana Sindhi also spent time with people like Dr Ansari, Nawab Waqarul Mulk, Hasrat Mohani and Azad. From 1915 till 1939, he visited Afghanistan, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arab. The journey abroad enriched the Maulana’s enlightened mind and he became a statesman-cum-sufi. Maulana Sindhi died in August 1944.
Powers of the provinces to have separate marriage and divorce laws may lead to many complications
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The subjects of marriage and divorce are being transferred to the provinces after the adoption of 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan. Though the amendment was passed unanimously by the house comprising political parties with totally different agendas, dissenting voices are being heard about the utility of the move.
With regards to marriage and divorce, there are concerns as to what will be the state of affairs if all the provinces and the federal territory make different laws. Will the move lead to confusion in case of inter-provincial marriages and compromise on human, women and child rights if certain provinces interpret the religious injunctions differently? These are some of the questions that need to be answered at this time.
So far the laws related to marriage and divorce have been federal statutes, adopted across the country. These include Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939, Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961, (West Pakistan) Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1962, (West Pakistan) Family Courts Act 1964, Enforcement of Sharia Act 1991, Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976 and so on.
Raza Butt, a Lahore-based family law practitioner, says it is very easy to amend laws at the provincial assembly-level than to do that at the two houses forming the federal parliament.
He says it can be a non-starter as proved by the withdrawal of Punjab government’s notification to introduce amendments in nikahnama. “These amendments, proposed around the middle of the last year, were immediately withdrawn in the face of severe criticism coming from everywhere.”
Raza Butt says the suggestions included inclusion of names and signatures of parents of both the bride and bridegroom along with their CNIC numbers and dates of births, mention of marks of identification of both the bride and bridegroom and production of their medical reports to ward off chances of certain diseases being passed onto the progeny.
He says objections raised were that the condition of parents’ signatures would further promote forced marriages and end marriages contracted without the consent of ‘wali’. Similarly, he says, the production of health certificates was opposed on grounds that it should not be made public and only the bride and the bridegroom should know about each other’s health.
On provincial marriage laws, he says, “I fear people would indulge in manipulation and go for options most suited to them. For example, a man from one province would marry a woman from another province and register it in the third province. This will give birth to jurisdiction issues as technically the laws of all these provinces would be relevant.”
Justice (retd) Fakhr-un-Nisa Khokhar, a PPP MNA, fears a conflict of laws in the existing situation. She says Pakistan is signatory to many human and child rights resolutions and it should be the National Assembly to frame laws that conform to the conditionalities involved in such agreements.
She informs TNS she had proposed 10 changes in the family laws and all of these were accepted for discussion by the assembly and sent to the concerned standing committee. These included full financial support to the first wife in case a husband opts for second marriage, setting up inheritance courts, paying lifetime child support to ex-wife in case of divorce and condition on financially capable ex-husband not to deprive the divorcee from living in his house.
Unfortunately, the bills are lying there for the last two and a half years despite the fact these committees are bound to discuss and return them within a month, she laments.
“Now, as the legislation of these subjects stands devolved, I wonder what is the purpose of having a National Assembly,” she says. Her point is that legislation on these subjects must remain with the National Assembly while administrative and financial matters can be passed on to the provinces.
She says it is quite possible that conservative provinces may come up with laws supportive of polygamy and male parties in cases of marriage and divorce. “If votes of women in Balochistan can be registered in the names of their husbands, anything is possible in this country.”
The fears expressed by the former judge appear very pertinent keeping in view the attitude of lawmakers regarding issues like polygamy. PML MPA in Punjab Assembly, Samina Khawar Hayat, has spoken vehemently in support of four marriages allowed to a man while PPP MNA from Sindh Nabeel Gabol laughed away the matter, saying more than 80 per cent lawmakers in the National Assembly had contracted two or more marriages.