The union cabinet's decision to amend the Anand Marriage Act, 1909, to include the provision for registration of marriage might not prove to be a blessing for the Sikh community.
The laudatory statements by political leaders and others about the Centre's move are baseless and misleading in view of lack of proper knowledge regarding the subject.
The proposed amendment is just a regular legal step taken by the government. The Act has remained applicable since 1909 because of its continuation allowed by the Merged States (Laws) Act, 1949.
Towards the end of the 19th century, when the Sikh marriage ceremony featuring four rounds of Guru Granth Sahib was almost established, some vested interests created doubts about its validity.
Maharaja of Nabha Tikka Ripudaman Singh presented the Anand Marriage Bill in the Imperial Legislative Council for legalising Sikh marriages. When Sir Sunder Singh Majithia became a member of the council, he got the bill passed in 1909.
From the Act's preamble, which says, "Whereas it is expedient to remove any doubts as to the validity of the marriage ceremony common among the Sikhs, called Anand, the Act is enacted," it is evident that the Act is aimed at validating marriages solemnised among Sikhs through the Anand Karaj ceremony.
The Act does not contain anything about the definition of a Sikh, conditions of marriage, substantive relief, jurisdiction and procedure, maintenance of spouses, custody of children, property etc.
All personal laws enacted before or after Independence, namely Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872; Indian Divorce Act, 1869; Parsis Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936; Special Marriages Act, 1954; and Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; contain provisions regarding matters mentioned above.
The union cabinet's decision is confined to incorporating the provision for registration of marriages under the Anand Marriage Act. It will not lead to any significant development regarding the Sikh community's demand for a 'personal law' of marriage and divorce. Rather, the amendment, if carried out, will lead to complications for Sikh brides and bridegrooms, particularly NRIs.
At a time when Sikhs are not able to establish their identity across the world, how will it be possible to establish the identity of the Anand Karaj ceremony? When would it be legal and binding?
The applicability of the Hindu Marriage Act to Sikh marriages will not cease by simply making the registration provision in the Anand Marriage Act.
The recommendation of registration of marriage has not been made to fulfil the Sikhs' demand. It has been done in compliance with directions of the Supreme Court in the 2006 Seema case. Even the Law Commission had recommended compulsory registration of marriages in its 211th report submitted in 2008 to the Centre. The commission has also recommended enactment of the Marriage and Registration Act.
Except under the Hindu Marriage Act, the registration of marriages is already mandatory under personal laws of Christians and Parsis, besides the Special Marriage Act.
If the central or state governments are really concerned about fulfilling the Sikh demand for a separate personal law, it should enact laws for the community relating to marriage and divorce, adoption, maintenance, minority, guardianship and succession.
It is only when such Acts are enacted can the Sikh community feel elated to have its own personal law, paving the way for the establishment of an independent identity.
The writer is a professor of law and principal, Khalsa College, Amritsar. The views expressed are personal.