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India Denies Minorities Marriage Freedom

SAN FRANCISCO, September 1, 2011 – The central government of India denied on Tuesday the opportunity for Indo-Sikhs to marry as Sikhs rather than Hindus.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) demanded last year that Sikhs be permitted to marry under the Anand Marriage Act rather the Hindu Marriage Act. Dismissing the request this week, Indian Law Minister Salman Khursheed said, “Such a step would invite similar demands from other religious denominations covered under the Hindu Marriage Act.”

“Sikhs are not a denomination of Hinduism,” said Arvin Valmuci, Global Coordinator for Organization for Minorities of India. “If that were true, why did Guru Arjan Dev Ji declare: ‘I have broken with the Hindu and the Muslim…. We are neither Hindus nor Muslims’? Clearly the Adi Granth’s author neither defined himself or his followers as Hindus.”

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 governs all marriages among Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, stating in Section 2.1(b) that it applies “to any person who is a Buddhist, Jaina or Sikh by religion.” Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhi — the three major religions founded upon a categorical rejection of caste, the system of social division central to Hindu teachings — are universally understood as unique and separate religions. Other minority religious groups in India such as Christians, Jews, Muslims and Parsis are all excepted from the legal definition of Hindu and allowed to marry under separate laws specific to their separate communities.

“Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhi, taught that ‘God is neither Hindu nor Muslim,’” said Bhajan Singh, a director of OFMI. “If Hindus and Sikhs — or Buddhists and Jains, for that matter — were one and the same, why does the Indian government feel compelled to clarify that these separate religions are included in the definition of Hinduism? Like Article 25, this is an authoritarian attempt to control and eviscerate anti-caste religions by forcibly converting them to Hinduism with the stroke of a pen.”

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution states: “Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion.” Many historians believe this article was directly inspired by comments made by Mohandas Gandhi in a 1947 prayer speech, when he claimed: “It cannot be said that Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are separate religions. All these four faiths and their offshoots are one.” Pushing his assimilationist views even further, Gandhi continued: “Hinduism is an ocean into which all the rivers run. It can absorb Islam and Christianity and all other religions and only then can it become the ocean.”