Aditi Tandon, Tribune News Service
New Delhi, December 7. The Lok Sabha today saw the introduction of an important private members’ legislation seeking to amend the Constitution of India to accord the status of full-fledged religion to Sikhism.
Shiromani Akali Dal member from Khadoor Sahib Ratan Singh Ajnala introduced the Bill this evening.
The legislation reflects a long-pending demand of the Sikh community, which has been seeking amendment to Article 25 of the Constitution that grants freedom to citizens to profess religion.
Though the Article guarantees this right to all, a particular clause in it says that a reference to Hindus would be construed as including a reference to Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists and likewise a reference to Hindu places of worship would be construed to include places of worship of Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. The Bill is seeking omission of this clause, which literally implies that the three aforementioned religions are either part of the Hindu religion or associated with it.
“The clause creates avoidable confusion on the independent identity of these three religions,” states the Bill titled ‘The Constitution Amendment Bill 2012′. It draws strength from the recommendation of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, which was set up during the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance regime.
The Commission had asked for deletion of the said clause in Article 25, adding that it be rephrased to acknowledge the independent identity of the three religions.
Ajnala argues, “Sikh Dharma was established as a separate religion with its own code of conduct by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. During the British rule in India, Sikhs were given separate seats.” The Sikhs have also been recognised as a separate minority (alongside Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis) under the National Minority Commission Act.
Earlier, Ajnala had written to former Law Minister Salman Khurshid asking him to pilot the amendment.
A private members’ Bill, not being a Government Bill, is not part of the government’s legislative agenda and the government is free not to heed to it.
In the past, however, the government departed from norm by accepting a private members’ Bill seeking an amendment of the Anand Karaj Act 1909 to allow registration of Sikh marriages.
The Bill was moved by MP Tarlochan Singh in the Rajya Sabha. The government later brought it as its own Bill, allowing the Sikhs to register marriages under the amended Anand Karaj Act instead of the Hindu Marriage Act, as was the practice earlier.