The union cabinet on Thursday decided to bring in a bill allowing the registration of Sikh marriages under the Anand Marriage Act, 1909, which would enable members of the community to get themselves registered as Sikhs in the marriage certificate.
The century-old Act was passed by the British, but became unoperational after Independence. Since then, Sikh marriages are being registered under the Hindu Marriage Act.
"The cabinet has approved the introduction of the bill in the Parliament's budget session to amend the Anand Act to provide for the registration of marriages," union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal told reporters in New Delhi after a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A bill to amend the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, would also be tabled when the budget session resumes on April 24, Sibal added.
"The cabinet's decision has fulfilled a long-standing demand of Sikhs. It is the first step towards acquiring an independent identity," said Tarlochan Singh, former chairman of the National Commission for Minorities.
In 2003, Tarlochan had written to then law minister Arun Jaitley, demanding a separate Act for the registration of Sikh marriages. "Jaitley replied that the Anand Act already existed. We found that it lacked the provision for the registration of Sikh marriages. Now, the amendment would do the needful," Tarlochan told HT.
"I have also demanded an amendment in Section 25 of the Constitution, wherein Sikhs are shown as part of the Hindu religion, I demand that the government review this law too," Tarlochan added.
Welcoming the move, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committtee (SGPC) president Avtar Singh Makkar said the Centre had provided relief to Sikhs by accepting the demand for a separate provision instead of inclusion under the Hindu Marriage Act. Talking to mediapersons at Anandpur Sahib on Thursday, Makkar said it was former Rajya Sabha member Tarlochan Singh who had first raised the issue in Parliament.
Hardeep Singh, SGPC member, said, "Sikhs also need a separate set of laws for annulling a marriage, guardian rights and succession rights."
Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh said: "The union government has shown respect for Sikh sentiments. I am thankful to the Prime Minister, union home minister P Chidambaram and union law minister Salman Khurshid for fulfilling the long-pending demand of the Sikh community."
Amarinder had earlier met the Prime Minister and the home and law ministers separately for the introduction of the Anand Act.
Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa said the decision was recognition of Sikhism as a separate religion, particularly the Sikh way of marriage, the Anand Karaj. "I convey my gratitude to the Prime Minister, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the union law minister for having given Punjab and the Sikh community this Baisakhi gift," the Congress MP said.
Dal Khalsa spokesman Kanwarpal Singh said, "After a long delay, the government has agreed to enact the Anand Act. I hope the parliamentarians, cutting across party lines, will back the passage of the bill in Parliament."