Half-Hearted, Half-Baked, Piece-Meal : Justice NIRMAL SINGH
India's Amendments to the Anand Marriage Act
dhan pir ayhi na aakhee-a(n) bahan ikthay ho-ay
ayk joat du-ay moorti dhan pir kakee-ai so-ay"They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together.
They alone are called husband and wife, who have one light in two bodies." [Guru Granth]
Marriage is a sacred bond of mutual dependence between a man and a woman; a true partnership of equals in marriage is made between those who are united in spirit as well as in mind and body.
For a Sikh, the solemnisation of marriage is performed by means of a ceremony known as ‘Anand Karaj’, which literarily meaning a joyful ceremonial occasion.
The only essential ceremonies of the Anand Karaj are the singing of hymns composed by the fourth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Ramdas. These are, in a certain sense, parallel to the saptpadis, in the Sikhs known as the laa(n)vaan(s) or lavans.
Lavans are the formal rounds of acceptance of nuptial vows as far as the customs of Sikhs are concerned. They are Incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib.
We may look at the following guidelines for a Sikh marriage from the Rehat Maryada -- A Guide to the Sikh Way of Life:
"For the wedding ceremony, the congregation sits in the presence of the Guru Granth and hears hymns of praise to God. These may be sung either by the congregation or by professional musicians. The bride and groom should be seated in the front of the Guru Granth Sahib, with the bride seated at the left side of the groom.
"The person who officiates the ceremony (this may be any Sikh approved by the congregation) then asks the bride and groom and their parents to stand while he says the ardaas (prayer).
"This is the start of the marriage ceremony proper. It is followed by a short sermon by the officiator, in which he explains the significance of the Sikh marriage ceremony.
"The love between a husband and wife is compared to the love and longing of the human soul for God. The bride and the groom are reminded of their duties and love and loyalty they should have for each other, and how they should share both their sorrows and joys.
"After this short lecture, the officiator asks the bride and the groom to signify their assent to the marriage by bowing before Guru Granth Sahib. A scarf is held on the one hand by the bridegroom, and the bride’s father or guardian gives the other end to the bride.
"Guru Granth Sahib is open to the lavan (marriage hymns). The officiator reads the first verse. This is then sung by the congregation while the bride and the groom rise, each still holding the ends of the scarf, and walk slowly around the Guru Granth Sahib with the groom leading they reach their starting point. They bow down and hear the second verse being read. As before, the congregation then sings this verse and again the couple circumambulate the Guru Granth. The same is then repeated for the remaining two verses of the lavan.
The service is then concluded in the usual manner; that is with the singing of the first five verses and the last verse of the Anand Sahib, the singing of the ardaas and the distribution of the karrah parshad."
THE 1909 ACT
Sikhs were the first community in India to culminate the process of codification of their holy ritual of marriage in the form of the legislation titled the "Anand Marriage Act, 1909".
The credit for the genesis of this Act goes to Tikka Ripudaman Singh, who along with Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha, drafted it and presented it to the Imperial Legislative Council.
Subsequently, due to the efforts of Sir Sunder Singh Majithia, the draft was finally passed in 1909.
In this act, however, there was no provision for the registration of marriages.
As a result, marriages performed by the Sikhs according to the Anand Marriage Act had to be registered under the Hindu Marriage Act. This kept causing many difficulties, particularly for Sikhs living in the diaspora since foreign jurisdictions were not aware of the scheme of laws in India.
There was an inchoate dichotomy inter se the laws governing marriage and the law governing the registration. Also, the decision of the Supreme Court in 2006 in the case titled Smt Seema vs Aswani Kumar (2006(2)SCC578) had held that all marriages shall be compulsorily registered.
Therefore, a fervent ground was made for the amendment of the Anand Marriage Act. Due to immense pressure from the Sikhs, the government amended the Anand Marriage Act. This allowed the Sikhs to get their marriage registered under the Anand Marriage Act.
FURTHER AMENDMENTS REQUIRED
However, even after this persuaded amendment, the Act requires further amendments to adjust to the present-day situation.
While marriage remains a sacrament for the Sikhs, there is no provision under the Anand Marriage Act for the husband and wife to apply for a divorce in case of a breakdown of marriage.
The era of the day requires that if the husband and wife are not residing in a mutually cohesive cohabitation, then they must necessarily be accorded the much-needed right of separation.
MAKING IT COMPREHENSIVE
Therefore, to make the Anand Marriage Act a comprehensive legislation, further amendments are highly obligatory, which inter alia, along with the need for a provision for divorce, also need to provide the provisions for alimony, maintenance and custody of children.
Another amendment in consonance with the present fundamentals of the society is qua the need to maintain a statutorily binding list of the valuables exchanged during the course of marriage between the bride and the groom.
Moreover, since the legislation is incomplete, the Anand Karaj is still not recognized in foreign jurisdictions, for example the United Kingdom. A legal marriage is mandatory in all foreign jurisdictions.
The present amendment in the Anand Marriage Act appears to be a half-hearted attempt to dodge the ever-encompassing demands of the Sikhs by serving them with a piece-meal legislation. This elucidates the manipulated stand of the government.
In playing to the gallery, the government seems to have given the Sikhs an illusory gift, which is far from serving the cause of a separate code of marriage for the Sikhs like the Hindus, Christians and the Muslims. It only furthers the belief that their bona fide demand for a separate code of marriage is only a mirage.
The author is a former Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Courts. He is currently a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly.