(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
ISLAMABAD - Sapna Gobia is busy preparing for her wedding in Pakistan in a few weeks. In many ways, her wedding will follow traditions passed down through generations, with the bride and groom circling a sacred fire lit by their families.
But unlike the marriage of her parents, Gobia's will be formalized by a government certificate under a new Hindu marriage law.
The 25-year-old will be one of millions of women from Pakistan's Hindu minority who now have the right to a certificate establishing her marital status under the Hindu Marriage Act 2017 that was signed into law on March 19.
"We Hindu girls and married women have lived in the shadow of constant fear ... of being kidnapped, forced to abandon our faith and convert and re-married forcibly to someone not from our faith," said Gobia, a graduate in English literature from a government college in the town of Dharaki in southern Pakistan.
She hopes the new marriage law will help prevent such incidents of kidnapping of Hindu minority women and their forced conversion to other faiths for bigamous, forced marriages.
"With our marriages now legally registered with government authority ... no one could be able to stop us and our husbands from proving our marital status," Gobia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"More importantly, bigamy has now been termed an unlawful and punishable crime in the new law - that is a big relief."
Since partition from India in 1947, and the creation of Pakistan as a separate state for Muslims, marriages of the Hindu minority of 30 million were not officially recognized, leaving Hindu women without protection under the law.