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Pakistani Hindus Denied Marriage and Funeral Rights

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Download Hindus in Pakistan are being forced to bury dead bodies instead of cremating them because there are few places where they are allowed to carry out the practice.

Hindus make up around five percent of the population in Pakistan.

The majority are Muslim.

Another problem facing the community is that they can’t legally marry.

Shahab Rahman in Peshawar and Yaseer Khan in Islamabad take a look at the challenges facing this religious minority.


Tens of Hindus worship at the famous Temple Ratan Nath  in Peshawar.

75 year old Moti Ram is leading the prays.

He says Hindus in Pakistan are free to practice their religion when alive but no so in death.

“Burning our dead bodies is a significant religious ritual in Hindu religion. Cremation is so important in Hinduism it’s like burial in Islam. Without cremation a dead Hindu will have no place in the after life. It is compulsory as fire symbolizes Brahma - the Hindu god associated with creation.”

It’s not illegal to burn dead bodies in Pakistan but it must be done in official cremation grounds.

The nearest place is nearly 100 kilometers from Peshawar.

Ramish Lal, a volunteer caretaker at another Hindu temple, couldn’t afford to travel and cremate his parent’s bodies.

“We were forced to bury them in a very overcrowded graveyard. When we dug up the ground we came across other dead bodies. I could not fulfill the last wishes of my grand father, parents and brother as we don’t have a cremation ground in Peshawar.”

And the largest graveyard in Peshawar only allows Muslims to be buried there.

Wakeel Khan has been the caretaker of the graveyard for 30 years. He has never buried a non-Muslim person.

“This place has been declared as a Muslim graveyard. Hindus are not allowed to bury here. Muslims can not mixed with those who don’t believe in one God.”

But many senior Islamic scholars argue that Islam respects other religions and their traditions.

Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali is the president of the provincial Religious Scholars’ wing of Jama-e-Islami.

He says Hindus must be give places where they can burn their bodies according to their religion.

Bashir Bilour, a senior minister in the local government says the cremation site 100 kilometres away is enough.

“As per Islamic injunctions we respect minorities’ rights. But in Peshawar there is no suitable place for a cremation centre. The place for them to carry out the tradition is not far away and Hindus can afford to reach there.”

Another issue facing the community is the lack of marriage rights.

There is no system to offical register Hindu weddings.

28-years old Sheetal was married five years ago in a unoffical Hindu ceremony.

“In the absence of marriage registration law, we Hindu women are not entitled to obtain a National Identity Card, which is ultimately a denial of our basic rights and we can’t vote in the elections. It also deprives us of our right to get property from our ancestors and makes divorce and widowed women very weak in the eyes of the law.”

A bill that would register Hindu marriages in Pakistan was tabled in the parliament three years ago but it has not been approved.

Sheetal says there is no legal mechanism to protect Hindu women in cases of domestic violence and divorce.

“One of my female relatives was forced to leave her husband. On small small issues, her husband used to beat her and eventually divorced her. But she cannot register a complaint to the authorities because she does not have any legal documents to prove the perpetrator was her husband. And it makes it impossible for Hindu women to claim rights over her children or property if her husband dies or after a divorce.”

Sheetal calls on the government to pass and enforce the Hindu marriage law.

“You know when I go out or travel with my husband the police often stopped and humiliated us because we don’t have evidence that we are married. They become suspicious about our relationship. I am made to feel very embrassed. But I think if the government passes the Hindu Marriage bill, it will enable us to register our marriages. We will be able to defend our basic rights.”

Last Updated ( Monday, 28 November 2011 10:40 )  

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