Lahore: More than three million Christians in Punjab province have only one office in Lahore to get their marriages registered – And their miseries are doubled when they reach Lahore, travelling hundreds of miles, and are informed to come yet again to have that official marriage certificate from the office, revealed observers and human rights activists.
Kashif Nawab, former UN Observer for minorities told News Lens Pakistan, “Deprived members of the community have to endure annoyed circumstances when they are supposed to spend some more days in Lahore without having a penny in the pocket.”
Even though, to help the community, Christians have established unofficial marriage registration offices under bishops at district level in the province. Priests demeanor marriages and send marriage certificates to bishop office which forwards them the government’s office.
Christian population has uncertainties about these unofficial local offices. They assert that the nonexistence of public computerized marriage registration offices without carrying clear rules is a serious matter of concern for the community. For them fee that priests charge is an important issue which needs to be addressed.
“My son’s wedding was scheduled on 23rd January in Lalamusa, Gujrat. We had to pay 22 thousand rupees ($220) to two priests and their assistants. The moderator (head of the bishop office) charged 12000 rupees ($120) and the local priest took eight ($80) and two thousand rupees ($20) for their assistants,” Akram Veeru, a Christian from Gujrat, told News Lens Pakistan. He said that it was really disturbing for them but they had no choice. “If government takes interest to determine this issue, it would be beneficial for us,” Veeru hoped.
Priest Rev Hafeez Gill told News Lens Pakistan that the priests’ offices have a fix amount to charge as they perform marriage rituals but still they do check financial status of the families. “Otherwise, we carry out some duties instead on behalf of the bride’s family. For instance, we go to the divisional Bishop’s office to submit the record of marriage and we also keep all records of marriages with us.”
Christian Marriage Act 1872 was adopted as it was at the time of the Partition of Pakistan and India in 1947. Under the Act, fee for marriage registration even in Bishop’s office is only 35 rupees (35c). “This is for the marriage certificate which has to be submitted to the government office in Lahore. Priests fee varies depending upon the service families render for the ceremony,” Priest Abel explained.
Along with these apprehensions Christians also have many grievances regarding the attitude of one and only registration office in Lahore. They express concrete concerns that the staff working in government’s office is not supportive either. “There are so many complaints about the hurdles and hindrances our people face when they apply for computerized marriage registration certificate. Occasionally bribe works instead of legal ways,” Francis Joseph Shahzad, a Christian leader told News Lens Pakistan. Unfortunately, various governments promised Christian community to resolve the problem but never fulfilled them.
Punjab Minister for Minorities Khalil Tahir Sindhu told News Lens Pakistan, “I am also part of this process and I am trying to get the issue resolved. Government is also familiar with the tribulations of this second largest community of the province but lack of funds is the problem. The government cannot expand offices to district or divisional level with the existing allocation in the provincial budget.”
Activist for Christian Rights Shireen Aslam seemed a bit sarcastic while talking to News Lens Pakistan.
He said that since 1947, many Christian leaders have become members of National and provincial assemblies but the community is not happy with their performance. “We cannot spare our own people who got the chance but failed to serve their community. We believe leaders of our community are also not serious towards our issues and their solutions.”