The Lok Sabha on 25 April 2016 passed the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The bill – already passed by the Rajya Sabha on 16 March 2016– seeks to amend the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925 with effect from 8 October 2003.
It proposes removal of an exception made for Sahajdharis in 1944 that allowed them to vote in elections for the Board and committees instituted under the Act.
The 1925 Act provided that every Sikh who is above 21 years of age and is registered as a voter will be entitled to vote in the elections to the SGPC and management committees. However, no person who trims or shaves his beard or hair will be entitled to vote in these elections.
In 1944, the Act created an exception for Sehjdhari Sikhs who trim or shave their beard or hair, and allows them to vote. The Bill removes this exception, disentitling Sehjdhari Sikhs from voting if they carry out these activities.
• It proposed to remove the exception given to Sehajdhari Sikhs in 1944 to vote in the elections for selecting members of the board and the committees constituted under the Act.
• This amendment will debar Sahjdhari Sikhs voting rights. As Sehajdhari Sikhs are continuously exercising their voting rights in the Shiromani GurdwaraParbandhak Committee (SGPC) elections since 1949.
• However, the notification was quashed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 20 December 2011, leaving it to the appropriate and competent legislature to decide as to whether or not to amend the Act to that effect.
Earlier, the Union Cabinet on 10 March 2016 approved the proposal of Home Ministry to amend the Sikh Gurudwaras Act, 1925, with effect from 8 October 2003.
As per the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, only Sikhs who follow all the fundamental tenets of being a Sikh can contest the election. But as per a 1944 rule, the electorate included Sahajdhari Sikhs as voters as well — a tradition decried by the Sikh community.
A Sehajdhari is a person who has chosen the path of Sikhism, but is not baptized. He believes in all tenets of Sikhism and teachings of the Sikh Gurus, but may or may not adorn the five symbols of the Sikh faith.
Under the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, Sehjdhari Sikhs are those persons who: (i) perform ceremonies according to Sikh rites, (ii) do not consume tobacco or halal meat, (iii) have not been expelled from the religion for committing a religious transgression, and (iv) can recite the Mul Mantra (a Sikh prayer).