The message of Guru Nanak is to accept all religions and that the Divine is one and the same for all. The Gurdwara is open for all to come and visit, and partake in the Guru's free kitchen and meditation/prayer. The Sikh scripture is not prescriptive, and to find information about marriage rites you have to look at the Rahit-name, i.e. codes of conduct. The primary scripture of the Sikh canon is the Guru Granth Sahib which is devotional, it does not describe in detail how a Sikh should conduct oneself in social life. Therefore, secondary scripture, the Rahit-name were composed in the times of Guru Gobind Singh to fulfil the needs for the emerging community, some three hundred years after Guru Nanak. We need to consider why these injunctions were not bound with the Guru Granth Sahib? I would argue that any code of conduct, like any law, is open to interpretation based on the circumstances. Therefore, these laws related to the Sikhs temporal life, were not fit to be bound with the spiritual content found in the Guru Granth Sahib. The Rahit-name are mostly referred to by Khalsa Sikhs, most Sehajdhari Sikhs will know very little about them, and generally will only accept what is written in Guru Granth Sahib.
The practices of prima noctas by the Moghuls and foeticide by some sections of Indian Society, as well as no widow remarriage, and Sati, led to the chivalrous codes, one of which was to protect women. The community was small and thus had to ensure its survival. The Rahit-name clearly state a Sikh should marry a Sikh, and if someone wishes to marry a Sikh they should embrace Sikhism. A Sikh is defined as someone who believes and practices the teachings of all Ten Gurus, and the Guru Granth Sahib. Some would argue that as Sikhism is against empty ritualism, for a non-Sikh to be married before Guru Granth Sahib when she/he has no intent to follow it, is an empty ritual. The Prem Sumarag Granth circa 1700 clearly states a Sikh should marry his son or daughter within the Sikh community, after taking amrit. So, in actual fact the Sikh marriage rite of Anand Karaj was only prescribed for Khalsa Sikhs (which is still the practice at Takht Hazur Sahib, Nanded), while Sehajdhari Sikhs would have had some sort of marriage blessing in the Gurdwara. We must also bare in mind that to mingle with killers of daughters (female infanticide) and of wives is a serious kurehat, or major break from the Khalsa code, but those who marry their daughters to a non Sikh is a minor transgression or tankha.
Nowadays, we can see young Sikh males dressing up as a Singh and keeping their beard for the day and carrying a sword, and then later on shave their beard. It was probably for this reason that this injunction of being amritdhari for marriage was made. Some Khalsa Sikhs argue that Sehajdhari Sikhs should not be allowed to have an Anand Karaj. This change in tradition occurred the time of British with the introduction of the Anand Marriage Act in 1909, which was adopted by the Singh Sabha. It states:
‘3. Exemption of certain marriages from Act: Nothing in this Act shall apply to -- (a) any marriage between persons not professing the Sikh religion, or’
Since then the position of women has changed worldwide and in the West women are economically independent and have much more freedom. In our secular societies, religion plays a very little role in most peoples lives, and in the West there have been increasing numbers of mixed marriages. Which led to the Akal Takht Sahib issuing a ‘Sandesh’ or advice, which some may argue is different from a ‘Hukam’ or encyclic edict. This ‘Sandesh’ states that to be a Sikh the person must have Singh or Kaur in their name. Sikhs do this at birth, but in reality this title is only officially given to Amritdhari Sikhs. The Sikh Rahit Maryada (1955) states:
Article XVIII - Anand Sanskar (Lit. Joyful Ceremony)
a. A Sikh man and woman should enter wedlock without giving thought to the prospective spouse’s caste and descent.
b. A Sikh’s daughter must be married to a Sikh.
c. A Sikh’s marriage should be solemnized by Anand marriage rites.
k. Persons professing faiths other than the Sikh faith cannot be joined in wedlock by the Anand Karaj ceremony.
Point A is not adhered to as many Sikhs marry within their caste. Point B is that it is to interesting to note that it is about a daughter rather than a son. Point C is also interesting as this deviates away from traditional Rahitname.
The issue behind the protests is that those individuals, who are predominantly male, see these marriages as the loss of a member of the Sikh community, to another. It would be interesting to find out if they have protested at the weddings of Sikh males, with non-Sikh females. This group has employed the Rahitname to support their protests, and seem to have coaching on tactics to employ against the police also. One of the Committee members discussed the issues with the group who said ‘ We are only following the maryada (injunctions) of Guru Gobind Singh, to which the committee member replied you know your Pita ji, but not your Baba, Guru Nanak then.’.
An interesting debate was between the Hundal brothers, Jagraj Hundal and Sunny Hundal. Jagraj Singh is a Khalsa Sikh and runs ‘Basics Of Sikhi,’ and Sunny is a Sehajdhari Sikh and is a journalist. Sunny labelled this emerging group protesting at mixed marriages as the Khaliban, or the Sikh Taliban, which Jagraj Singh considers unfair, as they haven’t committed any act on level with the Taliban to date. However, Sunny’s argument is that if left unchecked, this type of ideology could one day lead to more dangerous forms of extremism.
Perhaps, a good way of reaching common ground is perhaps to introduce a Sikh Marriage Blessing or prayer for any couple.
Sikh Marriage Act 1909
Prem Sumarag Granth (Circa 1700), see JPS 15 for the dating of this manuscript.
Sikh Rehit Marayada SGPC.