The Telegraph – This is a Kashmiri & an Indian speaking

Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami, the first detained Kashmiri politician to address a media conference, said people in his state were ‘suffocating’ in the lockdown

Pheroze L Vincent

New Delhi – India, 18 September 2019. Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami, the first detained Kashmiri politician to address a media conference in New Delhi in more than a month, on Tuesday made an impassioned appeal to fellow citizens in the rest of India to speak up for the right to life in Kashmir.

“This is a Kashmiri, an Indian speaking. We must also get the chance to live,” said Tarigami, a CPM central committee member who was allowed to travel to Delhi for medical treatment after party general secretary Sitaram Yechury approached the Supreme Court.

“We only ask you to take us along. An average Kashmiri asks for nothing, we don’t ask for the stars, we don’t ask for the heavens. We just want the chance to merge with you,” Tarigami, a four-time MLA, told reporters in the national capital.

He had been detained at his Srinagar residence since 05 August, although no case has been filed against him. Tarigami has been under police guard in hospital with restrictions on meeting journalists. Discharged last week, he is staying at the Jammu and Kashmir Guest House here. On Monday, the court said he was free to return to Srinagar.

Speaking to reporters at the A K Gopalan Bhavan office of the CPM central committee, Tarigami said people in his state were “suffocating” in the lockdown.

“Please listen to us. You have listened to one version. Please listen to the version of the people of Kashmir as well. We don’t have to be killed. Farooq Abdullah and all others (in detention) are not terrorists. Tarigami has not turned to be an alien element for my country. I am not a foreigner.

“Today it has been over 40 days of the clampdown, and we are told this is normality. Try it in Delhi or any other city. If your Internet and telephone do not work for a week, what will be your condition, how will businesses function, what will be the plight of children, of newspapers, the media?”

Referring to Kashmir, he added: “Today, are shops open? No. Are schools open? No. How many beneficiaries have availed themselves of the national health insurance scheme since 05 August 5? None at all. Yet, they say everything is normal.”

Seated beside Yechury, Tarigami said: “All they say is that no one is dying. People are dying slowly. There is suffocation. And that’s why I appeal, not to the rulers to whom my voice may not reach, but to the common public and the poor that we also want to live.

This is a Kashmiri, an Indian speaking. We must also get the chance to live.”

Tarigami expressed concern over a possible fallout. “What has happened on 05 August, how the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been humiliated that does not create confidence, that reduces whatever little was available here and that can only oblige those who want to further destabilise Kashmir, who want more alienation in Kashmir, who want more turmoil in Kashmir, provide fodder to the forces who want to encourage violence in Kashmir,” he said.

Tarigami said that he felt more disturbed now than when his relatives were assassinated by separatists. “Taaliyan baj rahi hain sarhad paar se, ‘Marhaba, Dilli waalon, jo hum na kar paye wo aap kar rahe hain (there is clapping across the border, ‘Greetings Delhiites, you are doing what we could not)’.”

Yechury told reporters that Tarigami would also be filing a writ petition challenging the removal of the state’s special status and its bifurcation without the changes being brought before the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. – Against India’s occupation of Kashmir, Sikh and Tamil groups to hold public demonstration in Delhi on 26 September

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 16 September 2019. Perturbed over the stubborn attitude of the Indian government with regards to the situation in Kashmir, its unrelenting role of disrespecting human rights in the region where the special status of the people and the state has been unilaterally abrogated, political parties from Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kashmir will hold Justice March and Rally in Delhi on 26 September.

The March and rally will be organized jointly by Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) and Dal Khalsa in which representatives of United Akali Dal, Sikh Youth of Punjab will also participate.

Leaders and activists of political party Naam Tamilar Katchi from Tamil Nadu and Committee for Release of Political Prisoners from Delhi will also participate in the public demonstration at Jantar Mantar on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the UN General Assembly, scheduled for 27 September.

While addressing the press conference in Chandigarh on 15 September, leaders of all the parties declared that minorities and nationalities will speak in India’s capital to uphold the right of the Kashmiris to speak.

While Prime Minister of India will present his side of story on Kashmir’s so-called integration into India at the United Nations session, we will speak on behalf of the population, who have been detained at gunpoint and their lives paralyzed since 05 August.

The leaders announced that in India they would hold the demonstration and at international level our aligned group Sikh Youth of America and our own organizational units in US will join with Sikh, Tamil and Kashmiri Diaspora outside UN headquarters to protest against India’s highhandedness against minorities and lockdown in Kashmir.

SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann said with more than 40 days of continued incarceration of an entire population of the valley, concerned political groups, human rights bodies, civil liberties champions and those who love Kashmir as much as they love Kashmiris have decided to converge on Jantar Mantar to express their solidarity with the people of Kashmir and protest against the continued subjugation by the Indian state.

This Justice Rally will serve as a rallying point to unequivocally declare that the problem of Kashmir, the rights of the people of Kashmir is an international issue and not a bilateral one as India, the Security Council or the United Nations think it to be, said Dal Khalsa head Harpal Singh Cheema.

While we are comforted that the United Nations is raising its pitch of consternation against India on the overall situation in Kashmir, there is still a vast room to do more, added party spokesman Kanwar Pal Singh.

UAD president Gurdeep Singh Bhatinda said the whole country is shrouded in fear. Opposition parties, non-governmental groups, individual human rights defenders are all reeling under the stress caused by the Indian state.

A state of numbness, pseudo-nationalistic and ultra-nationalism is sweeping the country, said Paramjit Singh Mand, president of Sikh Youth of Punjab.

Against India’s occupation of Kashmir, Sikh and Tamil groups to hold public demonstration in Delhi on Sep 26

Dawn – ‘They gave me electric shocks in a dark room’: Screams in the night in occupied Kashmir

Around two dozen young men in the villages of Shopian tell stories of severe torture at the hands of the Indian army.
Disclaimer: The contents of the article below might cause distress to some readers.

AFP Updated 17 September 2019

The soldiers came after midnight, Abid Khan says, his hands trembling, one of around two dozen young men in just one part of occupied Kashmir who say they have been tortured by the Indian army.

The alleged abuse, residents say, is aimed at creating a climate of fear after India stripped the long-restive, blood-soaked Himalayan region of its autonomy on 05 August.

Khan, 26, from Hirpora village in Shopian district, says he was dragged out and blindfolded along with his brother, who has learning difficulties, on 14 August.

“They gave electric shocks to my brother right on the road outside. I heard him scream painfully,” Khan told AFP, showing marks on his arms, legs and buttocks.

Read: Stories of torture following annexation by India emerge from occupied Kashmir

Once inside the nearby Chowgam army camp, Khan said soldiers stripped him naked, tied up his legs and wrists, suspended him and beat him with rods.

The camp major, Khan said, accused him of inviting Riyaz Naikoo from Hizbul Mujahideen, one of several armed groups fighting Indian rule, to his recent marriage.

An uprising in occupied Kashmir has killed tens of thousands since 1989, mostly civilians.

“I kept repeating that it was not true,” Khan said. “Then they gave me electric shocks again on my genitals and wounds. One of them said ‘I will make you impotent’.”

After being released at dawn and barely able to stand, Khan says he kept vomiting for 10 days and only managed to start moving around again after 20 days.

“I can’t eat properly anymore,” he said. “I don’t go into the room my wife sleeps in anymore. It’s better to die with a bullet than undergo such torture.”


New Delhi says its Kashmir lockdown since last month, with mobile service and the internet still snapped in most areas, is to prevent “terrorists” from stirring up trouble.

See: How India is seeking to portray ‘calm, normalcy’ in locked-down occupied Kashmir

India’s national security advisor has denied that the military has committed any atrocities, a statement echoed by Colonel Rajesh Kalia, an army spokesman in Kashmir.

“All counter-terrorist operations are conducted in the most professional and people-friendly manner. Allegations of manhandling levelled against the army are completely baseless,” Kalia told AFP.

But people in Hirpora say they often hear screams from the army camp at night.

Three other villagers told AFP they were also tortured. In total, around two dozen young men in the villages of Shopian told similar stories.

“The army is making examples of two or three young men from each village,” said one resident of Shopian who has compiled a list.

The pattern is often of soldiers raiding homes, taking identity cards and mobiles and telling young men to report to the camps to retrieve them.

One 21-year-old, who declined to be named but shared with AFP photos of his wounds, said he has reported to the Pahnoo camp three times since 27 August and was abused each time.

An officer accused him of giving food to Kashmiri fighters and then offered him money for information, he said. Another time, he was grilled about a former classmate who is now a fighter.

“They gave me electric shocks inside a dark room for about two hours,” the man said, showing scars on his forearm.
In this photo, Abid Khan shows his medical record during an interview with AFP at Haripora village in Shopian district.

‘Come back with names’

Obaid Khan, also 21, from Gugloora village said he had to go to the same camp to retrieve his ID and phone on August 26.

“Eight soldiers kept beating me with rods for a long time. Before they let me go, they asked me to come back with names of stone throwers in my village,” he said, referring to protesters who clash with security forces.

Related: Genocide Watch issues alerts for occupied Kashmir and India’s Assam state [centre/italics]

Sajjad Hyder Khan, a local official in Pinjoora village, told AFP he has seen a list of 1,800 people detained by police and soldiers from Shopian alone, one of the four districts in the southern Kashmir Valley.

Not far from his home in Shopian town, five soldiers in black with “COMMANDO” on their sleeves and carrying assault rifles were going house to house, seeking details of residents.

“In my humble subdued voice, all I can say is that the pressure is there in order to prevent people from protesting,” said Khan, the Pinjoora official.

And it has worked.

The official added: “There has been no stone pelting on the soldiers since August 5.”

Tolo News – Blast at President Ghani campaign rally kills 24, wounds 30

Wahida Shahkar, a spokesman for the provincial governor, says the blast was caused by an IED in a security vehicle.

Charikar – Parwan Province – Afghanistan, 17 September 2019. An explosion occurred midday as President Ghani began speaking at a campaign rally in the city of Charikar, in Parwan province. 24 people are reported killed, and over 30 wounded.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blast.

Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS ?
Man in Blue

The Tribune – In Haryana, NRC just a loud thought

Human rights panel’s former chief Justice Bhalla says yet to draw blueprint

Sushil Manav, Tribune News Service

Chandigarh – Haryana – India, 16 September 2019. A day after Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Haryana with Justice (Retd) HS Bhalla on board, the latter today said the idea was just a loud thought so far and the blueprint of the NRC was yet to come up.

Justice Bhalla, a former chairman of the Haryana Human Rights Commission (HHRC), said that though the CM had discussed the issue with him on Sunday, people would have to wait for some time for the finer details of the proposed NRC.

“From my discussions with the CM, I have gathered that the Haryana Government wants to provide identity cards to all families in the state. Assam is the only state in the country to have implemented the NRC so far, where the issue of foreigners is a cause for concern.

Haryana does not seem to have any such issue. The discussion the CM had with me on this issue yesterday was more of a loud thought. So, wait for sometime before I am able to provide the exact contours of Haryana’s plans,” said Justice Bhalla.

Contacted by The Tribune today, Khattar said the issue of foreign nationals settled in various parts of the country was a cause for concern for all states, and not merely for some.

“Though the number of foreign nationals in Haryana is not very large, but still we need to have in place a mechanism to identify them. This is an issue of national security and safety,” Khattar added.

The Opposition parties in Haryana, however, are not amused with Khattar’s announcement, as most of them have termed this as a ploy to divert attention from real issues. State Congress president Kumari Selja today alleged that the BJP government in the state had no other issues to talk about, hence it had raised this issue.

“During their five years in office, they have done nothing which they can talk about during the elections. People want jobs, development and business and not the NRC,” Selja added.

Former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda asked: “If the BJP government wants to put in place a mechanism for this purpose now, were they sleeping all these five years?”

Dushyant Chautala, convener of the JJP, however, welcomed the announcement, though he said it was needed more in Punjab, J&K, Bihar and other states sharing boundaries with other countries.

Dawn – Kartarpur corridor opening for India’s Sikhs in November

Kartarpur – Panjab – Pakistan, 17 September 2019. A corridor for Indian Sikh pilgrims travelling to a shrine in Pakistan will open in early November, in time for one of the religion’s most sacred festivals.

The visa-free border crossing from India to Kartarpur, Pakistan, would be inaugurated on Nov 9, just ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Baba Guru Nanak on 12 Nov 2019, Pakistani project director Atif Majeed said on Monday.

The project is a rare recent example of cooperation between the two nuclear powers, who came close to war in February following a militant attack on police in India-held Kashmir. India revoked the special status of its portion of the disputed territory last month, inflaming relations once again.

The Sikh minority community in India’s northern state of Punjab and elsewhere has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, a village just over the border in Pakistan. The temple marks the site where the guru died.

To get there, travellers currently must first secure hard-to-get visas, travel to Lahore or another major Pakistani city and then drive to the village, which is just four kilometres from the Indian border.

Instead of visas, the Sikh pilgrims will be given special permits to access the shrine.

Indian pilgrims will pay Pakistan $20 to use the corridor, which includes roadways, an 800-metre bridge over the River Ravi and an immigration office.

Up to 5,000 Indians will be allowed access daily, with plans to eventually double the capacity, Majeed said.

The Hindu – Hindu girl found dead in hostel room in Pakistan

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan. 17 September 2019. Chandni belonged to Ghotki, the district which was in the news since Sunday after three cases against 218 rioters were filed for vandalising properties, including a mandir.

A Pakistani Hindu dental college student was found dead in her hostel room in Pakistan’s Sindh province with a rope tied to her neck, a media report said on Tuesday.

Namrita Chandni, a final-year student of Bibi Asifa Dental College in Larkana district, was found lying on a cot by her friends on Monday with a rope tied to her neck. Her room locked from inside, The Express Tribune reported.

Chandni belonged to Ghotki, the district which was in the news since Sunday after three cases against 218 rioters were filed for vandalising properties, including a temple.

Widespread protests erupted in Ghotki on Sunday after an FIR was filed against the principal of Sindh Public School on the complaint of Abdul Aziz Rajput, a student’s father who claimed that the teacher had committed blasphemy by his anti-Islam remarks.

Chandni’s friends grew worried when she did not respond to their knocks on the door for several minutes.

She was neither responding to the knocking at the door nor to our shouts, one of her friends told the police.

The hostel’s watchman later broke open the door and found her dead, the report said.

Police is yet to ascertain whether the girl committed suicide or was murdered.

The girl’s body has been shifted to the district headquarter hospital for postmortem, but the police awaited her parents to arrive from Karachi for their consent.

College’s Vice Chancellor Anila Attaur Rehman said the incident appeared to be one of suicide but the police and the medical team will be able to ascertain the actual cause of death after the postmortem.

The Statesman – Ensure normalcy is restored in Kashmir, SC tells Centre; CJI to visit J-K HC ‘if needed’

Ranjan Gogoi said that he will visit the Jammu and Kashmir High Court after allegations were put forward that the people in the Valley are unable to approach it.

New Delhi – India, 16 September 2019. The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir to “ensure that normalcy is restored” in Jammu and Kashmir even as it asked the institutions to be mindful of national safety and security while doing so.

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi said that he will visit the Jammu and Kashmir High Court after allegations were put forward that the people in the Valley are unable to approach it.

“If requirement arises, I may visit Jammu and Kashmir,” CJI Gogoi said.

Ensure normalcy is restored in Kashmir, SC tells Centre; CJI to visit J-K HC ‘if needed’ – “This is India, not Hindia,” Tamil Nadu tells Amit Shah

Sikh24 Editors

Chennai – Tamil Nadu – India, 15 September 2019. Despite adopting every cheap tactic, the BJP led Indian government doesn’t appear achieving its goal of fulfilling RSS’ dream of Hindu, Hindi and Hindustan.

The Indian Home Minister Amit Shah has come under fire after giving a call to make Hindi, the unifying language of India, by taking it to every individual and home and using it in every aspect of life.

Amit Shah said this while addressing the ‘Hindi Divas Samaroh’ in New Delhi on September 14.

Going across the party line, the political leaders of Tamil Nadu have slammed Amit Shah for giving this call. Both the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK have been observed on the same page on this issue.

Warning the Centre of another language war, DMK president M K Stalin demanded Amit Shah to take back his statement on Hindi as they were detrimental to national unity and integrity.

“This is India not Hindia. The DMK will not hesitate to unite states which might lose their legitimate rights on account of Hindi hegemony. The party’s high-level policy making body will meet on Monday to decide on the future course of action,” he told the media.

The Education Minister of Tamil Nadu K A Sengottaiyan has asserted that the state is wedded to the teaching of two language formula (Mother tongue Tamil and English) which was being implemented since the days of Anna, the Dravidian stalwart and former Chief Minister C N Annadurai.

“Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had made it clear to the PM and the Home Minister during his interactions that Tamil Nadu would follow only the two language formula,” he said, accompanied by Fisheries Minister K Jayakumar.

Minister for Tamil Development and Culture Mafoi K Pandiarajan said that the Centre shouldn’t impose Hindi at this juncture. “…All the 22 languages should be nourished and people in due course will opt for one among them as the national language,” Pandiarajan said.

Marumalarchi DMK (MDMK) general secretary Vaiko is of the view that imposing Hindi would Balkanise the nation.

“Imposing Hindi on non-Hindi speaking states would lead to the Balkanisation of the country with only the Hindi speaking states remaining in the Indian Union,” Vaiko said.

“Hindi can never be the identity of India on the global arena. Amit Shah is wrong as it contains the seeds of divisiveness,” tweeted PMK president S Ramadoss.

“This is India, not Hindia,” Tamil Nadu tells Amit Shah

Dawn – Under PTI, a better law for Pakistan’s Christians

The ruling party is about to propose a historic legislation that will improve the lives of over four million citizens.

Yaqoob Khan Bangash, Updated 3 days ago

In the upcoming session of the National Assembly, the Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari is supposed to present a proposed Christian Marriage and Divorce Act, 2019 for adoption. If passed, this bill will repeal and replace the Christian Divorce Act, 1869 and the Christian Marriage Act, 1872.

After nearly 150 years, the laws governing Christians in Pakistan might be revised. Christians may make a mere five per cent of the population of Pakistan, but these two laws deeply affected the lives of almost all of the four million strong Christian population in the country, and it is high time that they are updated.

Ameen Masih

The impetus for a change in the law started when in late 2016, a Christian by the name of Ameen Masih approached the Lahore High Court for relief.

His prayer was not related to any discrimination by the majority community, or lack of basic rights, or even a plea for protection against an often-misused law. He approached the court in order to be able to seek a divorce from his wife without accusing her of adultery.

In his petition, Masih contented that while his marriage had broken down, he did not want to allege that his wife had committed adultery to obtain a divorce.

He prayed that Section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act, which stipulated that the then Indian courts follow the position of the English Divorce courts, should be made available to him, under which the provisions of the English Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 would apply, permitting him to get divorce from his wife on the grounds of the breakdown of marriage.

Section 7, however, had been omitted from the Act by the Federal Laws Ordinance, 1981 under General Zia-ul-Haq, and since then the main grounds for divorce for Christian men remained very limited and largely involved an allegation of adultery or conversion.

Thus, the petitioner argued that such a situation was not only against fundamental rights, but also forced the petitioners to lie. Masih’s petition brought to the fore critical issues related to the Christian Divorce Act and the Christian Marriage Act, those nearly 150-year-old statutes that had continued almost untouched in Pakistan despite independence.

The British and personal law

These two laws were the result of British legislation during the Raj. When the British came to India, they saw it as a set of different religious communities, ignoring other distinctions of caste, region, ethnicity.

Problematic as this ordering was, it gave rise to the notion of personal law in India. This meant that in ‘personal’ matters, marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance, the religious law of a particular community would be followed, while in other matters, common law would prevail.

This was, of course, a major limitation for well-formulated codes like the Sharia, but short of picking the law of a certain religious community wholesale and imposing it on the rest of India, the British thought that this was the most suitable manner in which religious sensibilities could be assuaged and also a common code devised for civil and criminal matters that do not come under the purview of personal law.

Thus, in the years following, the British enacted several personal laws which governed different aspects for Parsis, Hindus, Muslims and also Christians. While these were religious pronouncements in a certain sense in that they regulated affairs according to religious principles, they were not religious laws per se.

Also read : Why divorce is close to impossible for Christians in Pakistan

In other words, these laws did not obliterate the different emphasises and interpretations of various sects within a religion, but created a general parameter within which interpretation of law could occur for members of a particular religious community. Case law was then supposed to further fine tune these provisions, and also allow for different interpretations between sects.

In terms of Christian personal law, the two major statutes introduced in India by the British were the Christian Divorce Act, 1869 and the Christian Marriage Act, 1872. Even though Christians were still a very small number in the British Indian Empire at that time, their growing numbers through mass conversions, and issue of irregularities, led to the enaction of these two laws.

Previously, English law directly applied to Christians in India. These new laws also largely followed the then British law, but created a provision for changes to be made if locally desired.

The law on marriage recognised the clergy of the Church of England, Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church, while allowing other ministers and even lay people to apply for a licence to solemnise marriages.

The divorce law, again, reflected contemporary England and only allowed it in the case of adultery, bigamy, rape, sodomy, bestiality or a combination thereof with desertion.

A section also allowed for a petition for divorce in case of conversion to another religion by a spouse, recognising the local reality in India.

2017 LHC judgment

Returning to the case of Ameen Masih, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, the then Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, in his judgment declared that since the 1981 law was under an undemocratic regime, and since no consultations were ever held with the Christian churches or leaders before its omission, the deletion of Section 7 from the Christian Divorce Act, 1869 was unconstitutional.

Therefore, he allowed the petition and permitted Masih to divorce his wife relying on the British law, which permitted it under the irretrievable breakdown of marriage provision.

More significantly, Justice Shah noted that while he had taken the views of the Christian churches in the matter, this law was a state, ie, civil, law that regulated the affairs of a religious community. Hence, it was in no way changing Biblical law (as some were alleging) or forcing any church to accept divorce under its provisions.

Also read: The spatial politics of Lahore’s Hindu temples

In fact, the Catholic Church does not recognise divorce at all, and neither this petition nor even the whole Act of 1869 has ever compelled it to accept the concept of divorce. Hence, purely religious law within denominations was not at all affected by this judgement and only the civil aspect was being changed.

While the judgement of Justice Shah gave relief to the petitioner, and made life easier for numerous others, it raised an important point: how could Pakistan, as an independent country, allow the law of another country to be followed with respect to the personal law of a certain community of its own citizens?

Christians in Pakistan are Pakistani citizens and almost 100% of them are of local origin. The small percentage of Anglo-Indians and Goans is also almost wholly Pakistani born, and so there is no reason for an alien connection for their personal law.

Where there are still connections between churches in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, the fact that Pakistani Christians were to be governed by English law in matters of divorce was not only an affront to their Pakistani identity, but also infringed upon their fundamental rights where they, as citizens, should have their laws enacted by their own parliament.

A new law

In the wake of the Masih case, serious attempts were made by the then government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to formulate revisions.

Led by Senator Kamran Michael, who was also a minister in the PML-N government, several rounds of consultations were held with Christians.

These meetings started in earnest with a large consultation in Islamabad on August 10, 2016 where 38 people participated in the discussion. This was followed by another large discussion forum in Lahore on April 4, 2017 where 56 people participated.

Thereafter, due to the increasingly unstable government and the looming elections, nothing concrete was achieved until the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government took office.

When the new minister for human rights, Shireen Mazari, came to the helm of affairs, she seriously took up the mantle of finally bringing the changes to light. She restarted the process of consultations and within a period of just about a year, held several consultations with Christian leaders over the Act.

Also read: The ongoing struggle of Punjabi Christians

Thus in total, the Ministry of Human Rights held nine such consultative meetings between 2016 and 2019 with members of the Christian community. In all of these meetings, several issues were raised, many revisions suggested and a number of amendments noted to the two Acts.

Simultaneously, several church leaders and Christian civil society organisations also began to hold their own consultations.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) formed in 1985 by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Church of Pakistan and the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan led the way in creating a group of clerics and others, while organisations like the Centre for Social Justice and others brought together civil society leaders and human rights advocates together with religious leaders.

Thus, by the autumn of 2019, it was clear that a lot of work and thought had been given to the issue and a new draft for the Christian Marriage and Divorce Act, 2019 was prepared by the Ministry of Human Rights, keeping in view the several rounds of consultations and suggestions received from Christian leaders and activists throughout Pakistan.

Delicate process

While the consultative process was indeed commendable and the efforts of the Ministry of Human Rights and Minister Mazari laudable, several issues also came to the fore during the consultation process which exhibited its fraught nature.

First, usually an act of this type is shepherded by some members of parliament who either hail from the particular religious community, or represent it, or have a keen knowledge, either academic or practical, about it.

In this case, the parliamentary leadership fell mainly on the shoulders of the Christian members of parliament who had been appointed to their seats by party leaderships. Since these parliamentarians were never actually elected and got their positions through a party list, from the outset their legitimacy was under question.

While they were Christian by religious profession, this was their sole claim to representation. Almost all of them had no background in either social, educational or charity work that would make them stand out as natural leaders. Nearly all of them had risen in the ranks of a party due to patronage rather than support of the grassroots.

MNA Shunila Ruth herself pointed out this problem at a consultation, and noted that the only way she can advocate for Christian (and minority) rights is when she is fully supported by the community. Such support and therefore representation still needs to be worked on.

Moreover, almost all these Christian parliamentarians were unable to understand the nuances of both the Acts and failed to clarify and emphasise the actual nature of the old Acts and the reasons behind the proposed changes.

Of course, this has to do with the fact that there are only a handful of Christian members of either the National Assembly or the Senate, and so it would be unfair to expect them to understand the intricacies of a law which is civil but has religious implications.

Also read: In-depth: State of fear

Secondly, a major flaw in the process is that it is seen as primarily a religious issue, and so the consultations have focused heavily on Christian religious leaders. While it is true that the law will mainly deal with people professing the Christian faith, yet, as explained above, and very clearly in the judgment of Justice Shah, these laws are civil laws, not religious ones.

Therefore, while consultations with Christian religious leaders are fine, depending on their acquiescence for the proposed changes is not correct. This is because the proposed changes neither affect the particular law of churches and nor do these leaders need to accept these changes.

For example, the Catholic Church, worldwide and also in Pakistan, does not accept divorce. Hence, it has never accepted the provisions of the Christian Divorce Act, 1869 either and nor will it accept any version of it in the future. This is because Catholics around the world and in Pakistan are governed by the Canon Law of the Catholic Church.

The same is true for most mainline churches, like the Church of Pakistan and the Presbyterian Church, both of which have their own canon law that regulates such matters.

Furthermore, as has become apparent, any attempt to get a consensus among various Christian religious leaders over marriage and divorce is simply futile. This is because different denominations have very divergent views on the issues of marriage and divorce.

For example, the Catholic Church, as noted above, does not accept the concept of divorce under any circumstances. Instead, it uses the concept of annulment which, after due process, ends the marriage as if it never happened. On the issue of marriage, the Catholic Church sees it as a sacrament ordained by God, which can only be dissolved by death.

The Church of Pakistan, which largely follows the Church of England, also sees marriage as a sacrament but allows for divorce under certain circumstances. However, the Church of Pakistan does not allow for a divorcee to remarry as long as their earlier spouse is still alive.

Some Protestant churches also see marriage as an indissoluble covenant and only allow divorce on the basis of adultery. There are also divergent views on remarriage.

Moreover, while the Ministry of Human Rights wholeheartedly invited a very broad cross section of the Christian community for consultation, the reality was that very few of the religious leaders had any real claim of representation, and even among those who did, their numbers varied widely.

For example, the Catholic Church in Pakistan is the largest Christian church in the country, with over 50pc of the Christian population adhering to it. They are followed by the Church of Pakistan which claims another 25pc, while the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan counts another 10-15pc of the Christian population of the country.

The rest of the 15-20pc of the Christian population is spread over numerous, perhaps even thousands, of small denominations and house churches, which are almost impossible to count.

Therefore, bringing all of these religious leaders on the same platform and treating them the same cannot work as they do not represent a commensurate group of people and differ greatly in terms of numbers, organisation and stability.

Also read: What drives calls for giving Ahmadis a distinct identity

Thirdly, the involvement of NGOs in the process is certainly welcome and essential, but there are severe limitations as to their ability in helping the process. This is largely because most NGOs which either focus on Christians in Pakistan or are Christian-led, focus on issues of human rights.

Almost all such NGOs are ill-equipped to aid in the process of the revision of laws on marriage and divorce. Very few of them have any lawyers associated with them, and even then very few legal experts have an understanding of the development of Christian marriage and divorce laws both in Pakistan and abroad.

Among the few who have an understanding of such issues are Jennifer Jivan of the Christian Study Centre in Rawalpindi, Joseph Francis of Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement and Peter Jacob of the Centre for Social Justice. Besides them, and a few others, there are hardly any people in the NGO sector who have any competence to comment on such issues.

Furthermore, each of the three groups, political leaders, church leaders and the NGOs, had an expectation that their views would prevail solely, but the job of the ministry was and is to listen to everyone, propose a law that takes into consideration all the recommendations instead of allowing one section to dominate the other, as well as to ensure that the law corresponds well with Pakistan’s other laws and human rights regulations.

Therefore, while consultations were and are essential, the ministry has the final say in the version of the bill that will be presented in parliament.

The ministry, of course, has to explain its position, and perhaps a position paper is due in this regard, but needs to also ensure that a law is indeed presented in parliament and enacted.

Provisions and revisions of the proposed Act

The current draft of the Act brings to the fore some needed changes after revisions. Major among them is the raising of the marriage age for both men and women to 18 years. While the determination of marriage age is of some controversy in Islamic legal circles, Christian thought and theology is unanimous about the age of consent.

Furthermore, it proposes that both the husband and wife have the same grounds for divorce. Previously, the husband could only petition the court for divorce when the wife had committed adultery. Now, there is an allowance for both the husband and the wife to petition the court for divorce for a larger number of reasons.

At first, there were several critical issues that remained unaddressed. However, once revisions were suggested to the Minister of Human Rights, she immediately examined them and incorporated the changes in the proposed Act.

Personally speaking, I was amazed at the level of personal interest, keenness and receptivity the minister showed in this regard. The legislation has certainly come this far due to the personal efforts of the minster and she must be commended for it.

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Since I was deeply involved in these new revisions, let me explain a few of them, all of which have been accepted by the ministry and incorporated in the proposed Act.

First, a major revision in the proposed Act was the removal of the definition of a Christian. While it might be possible to come up with a definition that most churches accept, the view was that it was not a civil issue and therefore best left to the individual churches and the conscience of the people.

With having seen the experience of the majority community in this country in defining who belongs to a religion, it was important that such fissures are not introduced into a small community, where such issues could end up being equally explosive.

Secondly, the revision allowed for the solemnisation of Christian marriages in places other than a church or chapel. This was added to recognise the present reality where marriages take place not only in churches but marriage halls, houses and even in destination weddings.

Thirdly, the proposed Act has removed all references to the Registrar General of Births, Marriages and Deaths. While this office has historical significance and the office still remains, the law in force in the country stipulates that a marriage be first registered at the local Union Council and then at the National Database and Registration Authority offices.

Harmonising the registration of Christian marriages, something which the Bishop Emeritus of Lahore Alexander John Malik had even taken to the Supreme Court, has to be in accordance with the prevailing law and in consonance with how marriages of other communities are registered by the state.

Fourthly, in the provision for divorce, the revision introduced the notion of violence as understood in the modern sense. This was a major human rights intervention in making the law more equitable and women friendly.

There are several instances where violence is not just physical but psychological, economic and otherwise, and the recognition of its grave nature is an essential human right.

Thus, the definition of violence was introduced in this Act as grounds for divorce, to include “any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime.”

Fifthly, in the provision for divorce, the revision added that a lack of understanding of matrimonial rights and obligations could also lead to dissolution of marriage.

Reflecting the provision in Catholic Canon Law, which is also present in Anglican Canon Law and in the law of other churches, this provision notes that a lack of understanding of what marriage actually entails, the responsibilities towards the spouse, children and the family, could also lead to an end of the marriage.

The proposed Act, therefore, not only reflects similar provisions in the Canon Law but, for the first time, provides it to Christians in the civil law of Pakistan.

Sixthly, the revision improved the language of the proposed Act and brought it in line with current terminologies. It removed words like ‘idiot’ and ‘lunatic’ as grounds for an annulment and replaced it with ‘mental disorder’ to cover a wide range of mental and psychological issues.

This is a recognised ground for annulment both in the Catholic and Anglican Churches as well as most other mainline Christian churches throughout the world.

Seventhly, the revision focused on the issue of alimony the woman receives as part of the interim or final settlement. In the earlier draft, it was fixed at one-fifth, which was thought to be too less.

Raising it to “at least one-fourth”, the revision ensured that, at the very least, one-fourth of the husband’s income should go for the upkeep of the former wife and children, and that the court, keeping in view the reality of the situation, might even increase it as it sees fit.

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And finally, the revision removed the remnant of Article 7 of the Christian Divorce Act, 1869 that had survived as Article 49 in the proposed Act, stipulating that the provisions of this proposed Act were to be read in conformity with the principles and rules of the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Court in England.

Since Pakistan is now an independent country with its own laws, and also because such a reference infers that the Pakistani Christian community is in some ways foreign, the whole article was deleted.

These and some other changes accepted by the ministry in the proposed Act made it modern, comprehensive and women friendly. This revision was led by an expert team which included, besides me, Bishop Emeritus of Lahore Alexander John Malik and Peter Jacob.

Several others also gave their input in the process, including lawyer Jamshed Rahmatullah, Vicar General of Rawalpindi-Islamabad Diocese Asif John, Fahmida Saleem of the Christian Study Centre, NCJP’s executive director Cecil Shane Chaudhry and Jennifer Bennette.

The strength of this group was that it was a mixed group of religious leaders, scholars, legal experts and activists who had the expertise and experience to comment on such proposed legislation.

The revision proposed by this group was not church or activist/NGO-led. They were led by a deep understanding of Christian thought, a knowledge of the laws of various churches, decades of pastoral experience and an ability to work with the ministry to make the proposed law more comprehensive.

No more delay

The openness with which the Ministry of Human Rights embraced these revisions certainly shows their eagerness to ensure that a holistic and good law is presented before parliament.

All laws in a country are a work in progress and that is why we have the parliament. All legislation is proposed and passed with good intentions, but time, more knowledge and experience mandates its improvement.

The proposed Act might still have some minor issues, but those small things should not keep it from being presented in parliament and passed into law. If there are critical issues that come up later, amendments can certainly be brought in at a later stage.

This is certainly a historic and much needed legislation and directly affects the lives of over four million citizens of Pakistan. Any more delay in the presentation of the bill will only lead to more suffering.

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Yaqoob Khan Bangash is a Chevening Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. He is the author of A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.