I am going to try to reduce the confusion that exists about the Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) and about Rehat Maryadas in general. I will probably fail, as there are too many entrenched positions on this subject and there are too many organisations and individuals claiming authority in the panth. I am not a jathedar, but I try to speak from Guru’s teachings and Sikh tradition.
The Guru Granth does not contain anything like the biblical Ten Commandments. It is very clear that Guru does not like hypocrisy, that Guru wants us to get ‘high’ on Nám rather than on drugs, that we should not have sexual relations with women other than our wives, but nowhere is there a set of rules like : You shall not be a hypocrite, You shall not drink alcohol or take drugs or You shall not commit adultery. On most subjects Guru teaches general principles, not specific rules.
There is a body of work called the rehatnamas, but they miss the authority of the Guru Granth. These rehatnamas are ascribed to Guru Gobind Singh and to others like Bhai Nand Lal, although authorship is sometimes disputed. It also seems that some of these are specific answers to specific situations, and not necessarily rules meant for eternity.
The S R M was put together through study of the general principles laid down in the Guru Granth, whatever records we have about the creation of the Khalsa in 1699 and records like the rehatnamas that I referred to above.
On meat eating there is only a proscription of the eating of ritualistically slaughtered meat, although followers of the Damdami Taksal and the AKJ feel strongly that eating meat should be forbidden. Kabir’s sabads in the Guru Granth suggest that we should not eat any meat, Guru Nanak seems to leave the choice to us and a text ascribed to Guru Gobind Singh mentions that we should not eat halal or kosher meat.
Similarly the rag mala is included in the Guru Granth Sahib against the will of the AKJ, but you do not have to include it when reciting the Guru Granth. Compromise is uncomfortable, but is preferable to schism.
There is no suggestion that the present S R M is perfect and cannot be changed, by its nature it needs to be updated from time to time. We might discover new sources on the practices of Guru, and we might come to the conclusion that rules that were relevant in an almost exclusively Panjabi panth are simply not applicable to a worldwide panth.
More and more Sikhs of Panjabi background are born outside the sub-continent and there is an increasing number of non-Panjabi Sikhs. This will lead to the panth, the Sarbat Khalsa having to make changes. This of course does not involve giving up any of the Guru Granth’s teachings.