January 27, 2024

By Kamran Ali


PESHAWAR

Despite repeated appeals from the Sikh community, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has yet to enact a Sikh Marriage Act which has left their marriages devoid of any legal weight.

“When we got married, I took my wife to NADRA to update her CNIC with my name. The first thing the NADRA officer told me was that we have to provide a marriage certificate as well,” Hardyal Singh, a resident of Peshawar, told Voicepk.net, of his 2005 ordeal at the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

In the absence of any legal provisions that recognize Sikh marriages in the government’s books, Hardyal and his family face many other hurdles when seeking family certificates for travel abroad. His experience is that of all Sikh couples in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which casts a spotlight on the deficiencies of the administration as well as the lack of political will of the province’s leadership.

Sikh Population in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Radesh Singh Tony, a prominent leader of the Sikh community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Chairman of the Minority Rights Forum, said that the lack of legal cover to Sikh marriages is part of a much broader issue.

“While the precise number of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Sikh population is not clear, estimates suggest that the community comprises about 10,000 to 15,000 individuals,” he explained. “Of these, over 4,000 have entered into matrimony but none possess valid marriage documents or certificates.”

How do Sikh solemnize marriages?

A Sikh wedding, or Anand Karaj, takes place during the day in a Gurdwara. The granthi (priest) recites the laavaan, a four-stanza hymn, from their sacred scripture the Guru Granth Sahib. The marrying couple circumambulates the Guru Granth Sahib as the laavaan is being recited, completing four revolutions to finalize the matrimony.

Hardyal Singh explains that the marriage is conducted as per the Gurdwara’s procedures, along with paperwork. In absence of an official marriage certificate, the Gurdwara instead issues a certificate or letter to NADRA in order to obtain a computerized national identity card (CNIC). Sikh families use the same method for B-Forms for their children, however this round-about system is not only inconvenient for the community, but it is administratively unsound.

KP’s Sikh’s demand legal cover

The province’s Sikh population has demanded immediate legislation to resolve the legal and administrative roadblocks they encounter in their married lives.

Baba Gorpal Singh, another leader of the community in Peshawar, emphasized that due to the absence of any legal certification of Sikh marriages in the province, they are forced to contend with social and legal problems.

“One way to resolve this issue is to replicate the Punjab Sikh Marriage Act here, after which Sikh couples can be issued legal computerized Anand Karaj certificates,” he posited.

Punjab Sikh Anand Karaj Act 2018

According to a research paper titled ‘Family Laws of Religious Minorities in Pakistan’ by Dr. Ghulam Mustafa, Toba Ahmad and Muhammad Arsalan, Punjab is the only province in the country to have a Sikh marriage law, known as the Sikh Anand Karaj Marriage Act 2018. The law enables every couple to get an Anand Karaj certificate from the government after their marriage is registered.

However in spite of the existence of this legislature, it remains ineffective as according to Radesh Singh Tony, subsequent provincial governments have yet to formulate the rules of business.

Legal recourses to register marriages in KP

Shah Faisal Ilyas, a family law advocate, explains that in absence of a marriage law, section 29 of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act which states that the village or neighborhood council is bound to issue marriage certificates to people belonging to any religion, and this can provide some degree of legal cover to married Sikh couples. 

“If the secretary of the village or neighborhood council refuses to give the certificate, a writ petition under Article 199 of the Constitution can be filed before the Peshawar High Court,” he provided, further suggesting that any ambiguities in section 29 of the KP Local Government Act can be resolved by implementing Punjab’s Sikh Marriage Act through an ordinance. As the provincial assembly is currently non-functional, such an ordinance can be promulgated through an order by the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

KP government’s apathy toward minorities

Caretaker Information Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Feroze Jamal, explained that the interim government has not been apprised of the problems of the Sikh community, adding that if they do approach the government at any time, the caretaker cabinet may consider implementing the law through an ordinance or preparing a legal draft for the next elected government.

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