The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The constitution provides for the right to profess, practice, or propagate all religions, subject to law, public order, and morality. While Islam is the state religion, the constitution affirms that the country is a secular state. Family law has separate provisions for Muslims, Hindus, and Christians.
An amendment to the constitution, upheld by the Supreme Court in 2010, bans unions, associations, or parties based on religion. Despite this nominal ban, religious parties continue to play an active role in the country’s politics, and authorities do not enforce the ban.
Under the penal code, statements or acts made with a “deliberate and malicious” intent to insult religious sentiments are subject to fines or up to two years in prison. In addition, the Code of Criminal Procedure states, “The government may confiscate all copies of a newspaper if it publishes anything that creates enmity and hatred among the citizens or denigrates religious beliefs.”
Islamic law plays some role in civil matters pertaining to the Muslim community; however, there is no formal implementation of Islamic law, and it is not imposed on non-Muslims. Alternative dispute resolution is available to individuals for settling family arguments and other civil matters not related to land ownership. With the consent of both parties, arbitrators rely on principles found in Islamic law for settling disputes.
Family laws concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption differ slightly depending on the religious beliefs of the persons involved. Muslim and Hindu family laws are codified in the legal system. For example, a Muslim man may marry as many as four wives, although he must get his first wife’s signed permission before marrying an additional woman. Society strongly discourages polygamy, and Muslims rarely practice it. A Christian man may marry only one woman. Under Hindu law in the country there are limited provisions for divorce, such as impotency, torture, or madness. Hindu widows can legally remarry, and marriage registration for Hindus is optional. The family law of the religion of the two parties concerned governs their marriage rituals and proceedings; however, marriages also are registered with the state. There are no legal restrictions on marriage between members of different religious groups.
Under the Muslim family ordinance, females inherit less than males, and wives have fewer divorce rights than husbands. Laws provide some protection for women against arbitrary divorce and polygamy without the consent of the first wife, but the protections generally apply only to registered marriages. In rural areas, couples occasionally do not register their marriages. Under the law, a Muslim husband is required to pay his former wife alimony for three months, but the authorities do not always enforce this requirement.
The Hindu Marriage Registration Act, passed on September 18, retains marriage registration as optional but offers additional legal and social protection to Hindus, particularly to safeguard women from financial neglect or abuse.
The Vested Property Act remained in force until 2001, allowing the government to expropriate “enemy” (in practice, Hindu) lands. Over the course of its existence, the government seized approximately 2.6 million acres of land, affecting almost all Hindus in the country. Many Hindus continued efforts to recover land lost under the act. The Vested Properties Return (Amendment) Bill of 2011 obligates the government to publish lists of returnable vested property through gazette notification within 120 days. Subsequently, Hindu leaders submitted applications to reclaim previously seized vested property and requested an extension to prepare further applications. The Vested Property Return (Second Amendment) Act of 2012, passed on September 18, gives an additional 180 days for interested parties to submit applications for adjudication.
The government does not require non-Muslim religious groups to register, but all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including religiously affiliated ones, must register with the government’s NGO Affairs Bureau if they receive foreign financial assistance for social development projects.
Religious studies are part of the curriculum in government schools. Students attend classes in which their own religious beliefs are taught. Schools with few students from minority religious groups often make arrangements with local churches or temples to hold religious studies classes outside school hours.
There are an estimated 46,000 madrassahs. Approximately 2 percent of primary school students in rural areas attend “Qaumi” madrassahs, independent private madrassahs not regulated by the government, according to a 2009 World Bank study. The same study estimates another 8 percent of primary school students and 19 percent of secondary school students attend “Aliyah” madrassahs, state-regulated private madrassahs teaching a government-approved curriculum. Other primary school students attend “Forkania” madrassahs attached to mosques, and some students in urban areas attend “Cadet” madrassahs, which blend religious and non-religious studies. The rest either attend secular government schools or NGO-run schools, or did not attend school. There are no known government-run Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist schools, although there are private religious schools throughout the country.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Eid Milad un-Nabi, Shab-e-Barat, Shab-e-Qadar, Jumatul Wida, Eid Ul Fitr, Eid Ul Azha, Muharram; Krishna Janmashtami; Durga Puja; Buddha Purnima; and Christmas.