‘Sikh religion’ and Indian Constitution

Preamble of Constitution of India

I feel, it is a fallacy propagated that Indian Constitution includes Sikhs in the definition of Hindus. It just extends provisions of Hindu laws to ‘Sikhs by religion’. Let us examine their claim dispassionately in three parts:

A. Constitutional Position

Many Sikhs assume that Article 25 of the Indian constitution includes Sikhs as Hindus. Article 25 says:

25. Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion

(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion

(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law

(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;

(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus

Explanation I The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion

Explanation II In sub clause (b) of clause reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly

(Italics and Bolds for reference, not in the Constitution)

Read 25 (2) (b) closely again – the article extends the provisions regarding Hindu religious institions to Sikh religious institutions. It specifically mentions “Sikh Religion” as a term TWICE. 25 (b) is more about extending some Hindu provisions to Sikh, Buddhist and Jaina ‘Religions’.. the word Religion is again mentioned herein.

In fact, the Constitution of India does not define any religion. India’s Constitution does not give a definition of the term Hindu, but it does define to whom the ‘Hindu Law’ applies. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 (which by the way is not the Constitution), by stipulating in Section 2 that the Act applies:

(a) to any person who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms and developments, including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj,

(b) to any person who is a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion, and

(c) to any other person domiciled in the territories to which this Act extends who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion

Here again we see that though Hindu Marriage Act provides for laws related to marriages of Hindus but extends the provisions to ‘Sikhs by religion’. It does acknowledge Sikhs as a seperate religion.

We read the fine-print and we notice that they do not extend the definition of Hindu to Sikhs, but the applicability of the act to “Sikh by religion”.

Moreover, The Anand Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2012 has been passed by the Indian Parliament, which extends the provisions of The Anand Marriage Act, 1909 to Indian Sikhs.

B. The insecurity of Sikhs regarding Article 25

Many currents of Hindutva try to appropriate Sikhs as a part of Hinduism or the larger Sanatan Religion and actively contest when a Sikh wants to say that Sikhism is a distinct religion. This attempt to appropriate Sikhs and to obliterate their separate identity gives rise to a counter-current that clearly and explicitly seeks the Indian Constitution to remove all such appendages that join the two.

The counter-point is understandable and needs to be placated with clear-hearted intentions of the larger majority.

If the RSS stops appropriating Sikhs into their larger pantheon of Gods, the insecurity of the micro-minority about being subsumed by the larger religion would also go away.

If my RSS friends happen to read this; may I suggest that RSS must issue a clear-cut statement about accepting Sikhism as a distinct religion; albeit a part of the Bharatiya Dharma traditions.

C. The Observation of Supreme Court:

In a significant ruling defining the status of communities like Sikhs and Jains within the Constitutional frame work, the Supreme Court on August 10, 2005 has declined to treat them as separate minority communities from the broad Hindu religion, saying encouraging such tendencies would pose serious jolt to secularism and democracy in the country. “The so-called minority communities like Sikhs and Jains were not treated as national minorities at the time of framing of the Constitution. Sikhs and Jains, in fact, have throughout been treated as part of wider Hindu community, which has different sects, sub-sects, faiths, modes of worship and religious philosophies,” a Bench of Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, Mr Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari and Mr Justice P.K. Balasubramanyan said.

This Observation has caused much consternation amongst Sikhs, though it does mention Sikhs as a part of ‘Hindu community’ rather than as a part of ‘Hindu religion’. So, we can give it some benefit of doubt here. Though I wonder how the Supreme Court ignored the words “Sikh by Religion”, while passing it’s observation.

However, Hon’ble Supreme Court is not above the Constitution, and I feel ultimately the Constitution shall prevail despite a seemingly adverse observation. Some saner mind needs to put a review petition there, without the victimisation complex, just sticking to the points.

D. Why don’t Sikhs oppose such laws?

Sikhs don’t oppose all such laws bundling them with Hindus because first it does not include Sikhs into Hinduism; but rather it extends the provision of Hindu Laws to Sikhs. There is a wide difference in the legal position here.

Also the laws don’t need opposition because the laws are not discriminatory in nature and are rather a harbinger of social justice to all. As far as rules regarding succession and other civil laws are concerned for example, I feel we are happy being a part of the society in general with adoption of common civil rules for all in due course.

Sikhs however have been registering their protest against Article 25(b) for a long time, and that is understandable.

In conclusion:

  1. Article 25 gives all ‘religions’ certain rights: and subsequently, the word ‘Sikh religion’ specifically and pointedly gives Sikhism the status of a separate religion.
  2. Hindu Marriage Act provides for laws related to marriages of Hindus; but extends the provisions to ‘Sikhs by religion’. So in fact, it explicitly ends up dileneating Sikhism as a separate religion.
  3. I hope RSS accepts the Indian Constitution in Spirit and unequivocally declares its intent to finally accept Sikhism as a distinct religion with its own pantheon of scriptures, God (Akal Purukh), theology and traditions.

Post-script: Eearlier version of this blog also published by Sikhnet at https://www.sikhnet.com/news/sikh-religion-and-indian-constitution. Thanks to the editors.