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SDMS challenges ‘new’ marriage licence process
The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) is challenging a recently introduced system of stringent background checks for new pundits seeking licences to conduct marriages.
In an eight-page letter sent to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday afternoon, SDMS lawyer Stefan Ramkissoon questioned the lengthy questionnaire, which officers of the T&T Police Service (TTPS) Special Branch introduced for first-time applicants last year.
The information pundits are now being required to provide includes details of the organisation they are aligned to (names of officials and organisational structure), bank statements and the deeds for their places of worship.
“The imposition of these demands upon young pundits of satisfying the above requirements is not justified by nor consistent with any statutory requirement under law. Insistence on the information sought, directly and immediately violate the constitutional liberties of the SDMS’ pundits and Sanatanist Hindus under our Constitution,” Ramkissoon wrote.
He pointed out that the requirement of a licence to conduct marriages was introduced by Hindu Marriage Act. The legislation states that individuals who fail to obtain a licence are liable upon conviction to three years in prison.
Ramkissoon claimed that before last year, police doing background checks on applicants recommended by the SDMS merely verified whether they had criminal records.
“However, Special Branch officers are now, for the first time, seeking information which is inappropriate and/or unnecessary and/or disproportionate and/or discriminatory with the resulting effect of delaying and frustrating the entire process of licensing marriage officers,” he said.
He claimed the questionnaire provided by the police appeared to also target other faiths, as it sought information on an applicant’s date of baptism and ordination.
Ramkissoon also questioned the need for providing extensive details of the organisation that applicants are affiliated with, noting the SDMS is recognised under the Hindu Marriage Act.
Referring to the requirement to provide personal financial information and that of their religious organisation, Ramkissoon said: “These matters sought are clearly an unnecessary invasion of one’s privacy as well as the privacy of the internal information of the SDMS. Furthermore, the questions are oppressive and/or irrelevant.”
Ramkissoon called upon Al-Rawi to clarify the issue, as his ministry is tasked with the responsibility of issuing the licences, once clearance is given by the police.
“If allowed to continue, their actions could result in or mean that the SDMS and its pundits are now required to submit to the authority, control and approval of the State in the conduct of their programme of religious affairs and could result in active involvement by the State in religious activity, constituting an excessive entanglement of the State in religious affairs and imposing a comprehensive, discriminating and continuing State surveillance on a pervasively religious activity,” Ramkissoon said.
The SDMS was embroiled in controversy regarding marriage licenses last year after its outspoken Secretary General Sat Maharaj challenged moves by Parliament to increase the legal age for marriages to 18. Colonial legislation previously allowed Hindus and Muslims to perform marriages of teenagers, provided that their parents consented. The legislation was eventually unanimously passed and was proclaimed in September, last year.
The SDMS is also being represented in the current matter by Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally and Kiel Taklalsingh.
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