The Punjab Assembly on Wednesday unanimously passed the Punjab Sikhs Anand Karaj Marriages Act 2017, a bill that will provide legal status to Sikh marriages in the province.
The bill was tabled by provincial minister Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora in 2017 and was signed by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif last week. The passing of the bill has effectively repealed the Anand Marriage Act, 1909 that was passed under British rule.
The bill, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, will come into force immediately after it has been approved by the governor. Once the bill has been approved, every Sikh marriage that took place before the bill came into force would also gain legal status.
According to the bill, a marriage ceremony, or Anand Karaj — which is defined as "the lawful union of a Sikh male and Sikh female" — will be performed in accordance with the religious practices as permitted in the Sikh religious text Guru Granth Sahib. The ceremony would be performed by a male or female called a "Granthi" who would read out from Guru Granth Sahib.
A "marriage deed", a legal document authorising the matrimonial union, will then be issued by a registrar who will be appointed by the Punjab government.
If a marriage certificate is not issued after the ceremony has taken place, it must be "reported" to the registrar by the Granthi who "solemnised the marriage".
MPA Arora, who presented the bill in the assembly, claimed that "Pakistan [will be] the only country in the world that would register Sikh marriages" once the bill is passed.
Previously, the records of Sikh marriages were maintained in a Gurdwara.
What is the Punjab Sikhs Anand Karaj Marriages Act?
The bill not only allows the registration of Sikh marriages with the provincial government but also lays down legal guidelines for those eligible for marriage, rules for dissolution and child support or "maintenance" following a dissolution.
According to the bill, any marriage ceremony that takes place between a Sikh male and female would be recognised by the government as long as the bride and groom are:
Of sound mind and not below the age of 18 years
they enter into marriage contract with their free and full consent
are not related to each other in any degree of consanguinity or affinity which, according to the customary law of Sikhs, renders the marriage between them unlawful.
In case a "party" seeks to dissolve the marriage, he/she must submit a written note to the chairman — head of a union council, union administration or municipal committee or any official that has been authorised by the government to "discharge the functions of the Chairman under the Act" — as well as their partner.
The chairman would then have to constitute an "arbitration council" within 30 days of receiving the note, in order to facilitate reconciliation between the couple. However, if "reconciliation is not effected within 90 days from the date of the notice", the chairman will have to declare the marriage as dissolved and issue a Certificate of the Dissolution of Marriage.
Following the dissolution, either party will have the right to file an application in court for an "order for maintenance payment[s] and/or a lump sum payment for themselves or for a dependent child of the marriage".