A 109-year-old demand of the Sikhs has finally been met by the Delhi government. For over a hundred years, Sikhs were made to register their marriages under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, as the Anand Marriage Act (for Sikhs) initiated during the British era of 1909, had not been implemented. This had deeply troubled many members of the Sikh community especially those who had moved abroad, as, while they identified as Sikh, their marriages were registered as “Hindu”.
This dissonance could only be resolved by enacting an exclusive marriage act for the community, rather than placing it under the “Hindu” banner. Further, many Sikhs were of the opinion that the fact that religious minorities like Sikhs and Jains were clubbed under the Hindu Marriage Act went against the secular spirit of the Indian Constitution.
So, why are we talking about Anand Marriage Act now? On 17 January 2018, Delhi Revenue Minister Kailash Gahlot said that the framing of provisions under the Anand Marriage Act was in its final stage and would be notified soon, giving new hope to many Sikhs.
Sikh marriages will henceforth be registered under the Anand Marriage Act in the national capital, following the notification, the minister claimed, while addressing the press.
How Did This Act Emerge?
The Anand Marriage Act of 1909 was passed by the British Imperial (that is, Governor General) Legislative Council to establish the legal “validity of the marriage ceremony common among the Sikhs called Anand Karaj.” In 2012, the Parliament passed the Anand Marriage (Amendment) Bill, during the tenure of Manmohan Singh-led UPA government. The Bill, passed in the Budget session that year, had also received the then president Pratibha Patil’s assent. Consequently, Sikhs would be able to register their marriages under the Anand Marriage Act instead of the Hindu Marriage Act.
Although the Anand Marriage Law was enacted in 1909, there was no provision for registration of marriages and they were registered under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. “The Anand Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2012, after having received the assent of the President on 7 June 2012, has been published as corresponding Act in the Gazette of India,” a Law Ministry statement had said, as reported by PTI.
Admitting that it had taken a lot of time to pursue amendments in the Anand Marriage Act, Salman Khurshid said in 2012, as reported by PTI, that this was a symbolic gesture and "we should respect the sentiments of all communities… whether Bodos or any other group."
Sikh groups have maintained that members of the community face problems abroad as their certificates are issued under the Hindu Marriage Act.
//Supporting the amended bill, Harsimrat Kaur Badal (of Shiromani Akali Dal) had said that Sikhs face problems abroad because while they identify as Sikh, their marriages are registered under the Hindu Marriage Act.//
According to the amended bill, couples whose marriages have been registered under this Act will not be required to get their marriage registered under the Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths Act, 1969 or any other law for the time being in force.
On 12 April 2012, the Union Cabinet approved amendment to the Anand Marriage Act, 1909, to provide for registration of marriages of Sikhs, as per a report by The Hindu.
In an article dated 20 October 2015 for The Indian Express, Tahir Mahmood, former chair of the National Commission for Minorities, writes that way back in 1998, while he was still chairing the aforementioned committee, he had received a demand from some Sikh leaders for their community’s members to be excluded from the Hindu personal laws of 1955-56. Mahmood told the newspaper:
“I did my best to convince them that those acts codified family law for four different communities and had been named after the predominant one among them for the sake of brevity.”
Why Is It Called ‘Hindu’ Marriage Act If It Includes Other Religious Minorities?
In 2004, a Sikh member of the BJP and Rajya Sabha, also the chairman of the commission at the time, moved a bill to amend the Anand Marriage Act of 1909. Eight years hence, in 2012, a Sikh woman scholar Birendra Kaur filed a petition in the Supreme Court, to prevent the Hindu marriage law from being applied to her community. As a result, the Supreme Court put forth the following question to the government, “Can you call it the Buddhist marriage act and apply it to the other three communities?”
The writing on the wall was clear: blatantly using the word “Hindu” in titles and provisions of four acts of 1955-56, and applying to four other religious communities as well, was against the secular spirit of the Constitution.
Kaur had said that clubbing other religious minorities under the Hindu Marriage Act banner simply negated their individual identities and with it, the constitutional right under Article 25 of each individual to practise and preach the religion of one’s choice.
While the Punjab and Haryana High Court had rejected Kaur’s petition, a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, and Justices SS Nijjar and J Chelameswar considered her plea and said, as per a TOI report, “Issue notice on the question as to whether the inclusion of people professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist faiths could be included in the enactments relating exclusively to persons professing the Hindu religion, within the ambit of Explanation II to Article 25(2) of the Constitution. Let notice be issued separately to the AG also, to be served both through the ministry of minority affairs as also through the central agency, returnable six weeks hence.”
The petitioner however, pointed out an inconsistency within the ambit of Explanation II to Article 25(2) of the Constitution: "The reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly." The petitioner argued that it would be unjust to club different religions under the banner of one (dominant) religion.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves had stated, as quoted by TOI: "This petition is seeking to express and make clear the frustration and disappointment of a large part of the Sikh community which feels its identity as Sikh is undermined by certain clauses and titles of certain statutes which club Sikhs under the definition of Hindu.”
How to Register Under Anand Marriage Act?
A Sikh marriage ceremony is traditionally known as the ‘Anand Karaj’, meaning ‘blissful event’. In 2014, with Haryana notifying the Anand Marriage Act, the state government also appointed officials to enable the registration of Sikh marriages. For rural areas, tehsildars were selected, while for urban areas, the designated authorities were Joint Commissioner for Municipal Corporation, Executive Officers for the Municipal Committee and Secretary of Municipal Council, reported The Pioneer. A spokesman of the state home department told the newspaper that the Anand Marriage could only be registered with the Registrar appointed to solemnise such marriages.
Accordingly, the stakeholders would have to produce two copies of a memorandum or agreement and submit the same to the Registrar along with written proof of the marriage and a registration fee of Rs 50. These submissions would have to be made within 30 days from the date of the solemnisation of the marriage. Both parties involved and at least two witnesses to the marriage would have to sign the agreement.
This is the case with Haryana. The rules for registering Sikh marriages under the act in Delhi is yet to be known.
As per a report on 12 November 2017, in The Echo of India, the union territory administration of Port Blair notified the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Anand Marriages Registration Rules 2017 to allow registration of marriages in the Sikh community under the Anand Marriage Act instead of the Hindu Marriage Act. The rules state that the Lt Governor would be the concerned official to authorise a District Registrar or a Registrar of Marriages for the demarcated areas, through a notification in the official gazette for Sikh marriages.
Current Status of Anand Marriage Act
On 17 January 2018, Delhi Revenue Minister Kailash Gahlot said that the framing of provisions under the Anand Marriage Act was in its final stage and would be notified.
Sikh marriages will henceforth be registered under the Anand Marriage Act in the national capital, following the notification, the minister stated, as per a report by PTI. Fulfilling an almost 100-year-old demand of the Sikhs, Delhi is the first state in the country to implement the Anand Marriage Act for registration of Sikh marriages.
The Sikhs, whose marriages have been registered under this Act, are not required to get these registered under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Gahlot said, as quoted by PTI:
“We have held several meetings in the last three months. We are in the final stages to implement provisions of the Anand Marriage Act in Delhi. New Sikh marriages will be registered under this act.”
The minister’s assurance comes after BJP MLA Manjinder Singh Sirsa demanded that the Delhi government implement provisions of the act in order to give the Sikh community its rights. On Sirsa’s demand, Gahlot said that the BJP leader was merely politicising the issue, as the Anand Marriage Act had already been notified by the Centre, reported PTI.
In December, a delegation of the Sikh community, led by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs, had urged the Delhi government for early implementation of the provisions of the Anand Marriage Act in the city.
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