When Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism are recognised as equal and independent by the Constitution, can these religions be included in the Acts and enactments relating exclusively to persons professing Hindu religion, like the Hindu Succession Act, 1956?
This is what the Supreme Court will be deciding on a petition filed by an SAS Nagar resident and writer on Sikh issues, Birendra Kaur, and Mansa resident Rohit Garg.
Taking up their special leave petition, a three-judge bench comprising the Chief Justice of India, Altamas Kabir, justice Surinder Singh Nijjar and justice J Chelameswar has issued a notice to the central government.
Appearing for the petitioners, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves has sought replacement of the word Hindu in various such Acts, also applicable to Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, with a "neutral and secular" word like "Indian or national", so as to maintain the independent status of these religions. These Acts include the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, and the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956.
The petitioners had earlier moved the Punjab and Haryana high court, where their petition was dismissed.
Giving an example of the recent amendment to the Anand Marriage Act, 1909, the petitioners said the joy and satisfaction expressed by the entire Sikh community worldwide on just being able to register their marriages under an Act in the name of their own ceremony amply clarifies that what they suffered from was an "identity crisis". Earlier, Sikhs were compelled to register their marriages under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
One of the strong arguments given in favour of making changes in the names of the Acts is that "in the Acts…the word 'Hindu' is used as the 'name' of a religion (proper noun) as well as an 'expression' jointly for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, including some others as well (collective noun)."
The petitioners have further submitted that this discrimination is also seen in the application forms for tax deduction and collection account number for Hindu undivided family (HUF), HUF PAN card, HUF creation deed as well as deed of adoption, succession certificate, lawsuits/affidavits, etc, where the followers of these religions have to certify themselves as members of the HUF.
The petitioners say that even if Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism may have a common geographical and cultural background, these religions are ideologically far separated and thus it is wrong to label all of them as Hindus.