‘Liberal’ Sharif rights history
In the process of rearranging pieces on the politico-ideological chessboard, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has emerged as a crucial figure. In his third tenure, Sharif is finally clear about the direction in which he wants to take the country.
After decades of neglect, Pakistan’s political elites are trying to reset the historical trajectory. That the civilians are weaker in the country’s power matrix is well known. Since the country’s inception, its elites-civilian and military-have used Islamic identity as a convenient ploy to maximise their power. Religious minorities, including those among Muslims, consequently suffered. Seven decades later, the national leadership has realised that it needs to correct historical wrongs.
In this process of rearranging pieces on the politico-ideological chessboard, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has emerged as a crucial figure. In his third tenure, Sharif is clear about the direction in which he wants to take the country. His efforts to reset Pakistan’s foreign policy have not been successful, so far. At home, though, he has initiated a number of reforms.
A key example was the passage of the Hindu Marriage Bill last week. This legislation is a first as it codifies the Hindu minority’s personal law. There are more than two million Hindus in Pakistan, mostly located in the southern Sindh province. It is unimaginable that, until now, Hindu marriages were not recognised legally.
As a result, forced conversions and marriages could take place even when Hindu women were already married because the law did not acknowledge those unions. Now, the law also protects the legitimacy of children born out of voidable Hindu marriages. And perhaps the best aspect is that the new law prohibits marrying off minors by setting 18 as the minimum marriageable age.
The challenge is to operationalise some of the legal provisions of this law. For instance, not registering a marriage has been made punishable under the new law. But cultural practices require time to change and grassroots sensitisation will require the involvement of legislators and civil society. It is unclear how forced conversions will stop completely until there is stronger law enforcement.
However, the gaps in the newly enacted law do not undermine its overall power and, more importantly, messaging in a country where Hindus in the public imagination are the ‘other’, located in the neighbouring ‘Hindu’ country. The state has recognised the existence of a large community, its citizenship and, above all, the government’s duty to protect their status. This is closer to Jinnah’s post-1947 vision, forgotten soon after his death. The next agenda item for the government is reforming personal laws of Pakistan’s Christian community.
Once derided as a right-wing political proxy of Pakistan’s military, Sharif has come a long way. Despite the corruption and tax evasion cases, his political base remains intact in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. His new-found liberalism (yes, he used the term ‘liberal’ in a public address last year) has the potential to undo much injustice. ???
Raza Rumi is editor, Daily Times
Muslim Rate of Growth In an unprecedented electoral success, the BJP claimed 312 seats in UP of the 384 it contested. Its allies won a further 13, to bring the NDA total to 325 out of 403 assembly seats. The overwhelming success was achieved despite a single Muslim candidate, though Muslims comprise about 20 per cent of the state’s population.