Sikhism and Women
Bibi Baljit Kaur
Guru Nanak was perhaps the first person in religious history of humankind to raise his voice against Woman's discrimination. He called her the mother of humankind, “Why denounce the women from whom even kings and saints are born.”
The Sikh Gurus not only provided ideological base to their hymns for socio- religious rehabilitation of women but also undertook several practical steps in this direction. The ideal man of Guru Nanak was a householder and in it the woman played a crucial role.
Women have played a great part in the history of the Sikhs .In the Gurus’ system they were equal to men. Guru Angad showed profound respect for his wife Mata Khivi , She was put in charge of the langar at the time. Out of 146 missionaries appointed by Guru Amardas, 52 were women; never in the history of India had women been given such an August position in religious-cultural administration. The whole of Kashmir and Kabul were under women provincial missionary heads. In 18th century, when Sikhs fought many pitched battles against the Mughals, the Sikh women performed all duties of the Khalsa. It was Mai Bhago who rallied the deserters, pricked their conscience, who had renounced there allegiance to Guru Gobind Singh, led them to the battlefield of Muktsar where they laid down their lives for the Guru. When Guru Gobind Singh was a young child, administration of the Guru Darbar was conducted by Mata Gujri, his mother. After the death of Banda Singh Bahadur, for nearly 3 decades the Sikh community was guided by the wife of Guru Gobind Singh, Mata Sundri and Mata Sahib Kaur, the mother of the Khalsa.
The ladies of the Gurus' households all brightened the social structure with their outstanding administrative abilities.
Even outside of the Gurus households a Sikh woman, in general, was considered adhshiriri and mokhdwari. She was given equal treatment in all institutions that they established such as Sangat, Pangat and missionary work. They made concerted efforts to eradicate evils such as purdah, kurhimaar, Sati and the dowry system.
No major religion has ever given such an equal right to women. Muslims do not allow women to enter a mosque; they are kept in purdah The Buddhists feel that if women enter their religion, the life span of the religion will be reduced. As for Western culture, women had no right to vote till 1928. The Pope declared in the year 1979 that Christian tradition prohibited ordinance of women as priests.(It was in the Times Magazine on Oct 15, 1979.) The French revolution excluded women from the right to franchise. Goethe, the German scholar was of the view that women had no soul.
Tulsidas had classified them as 'cattle' and 'shudras'. The code of Manu disallowed women from reading or listening to Vedic scriptures. In Jainism they believed that women had to be reborn as men before they could attain ultimate liberation.
The Gurus sought to give women freedom from dependence on men, so Sikh women do not trace their lineage to their fathers or husbands: She is Kaur before marriage and after marriage.
It is generally said that development of any society can be judged by the status a woman occupies in relation to a man in that society. No society can be called free and just until women enjoy full independence and get all opportunities for recognizing their full potential. Today, there is a downward slide from our ancient pristine glory. We ourselves are to blame; we have made our religion into a ritual where we visit the Gurdwara as a formality but a large section of us do not understand what the texts have to say. Not knowing the language is not an excuse anymore as there have been ample numbers of translations made into all major languages.
Women can not take cover by putting it as male chauvinism; today we have ample women in Politics, as Panchayat members, SGPC members, in human right groups and a very vigilant Diaspora.
We, as Sikhs need to put our heads together to study the weaver, the loom and the whole fabric of society and see wherefrom the weakness has come. Our institutions role in the decline cannot be overlooked. The SGPC, the DGPC, The Singh Sabhas, The Taxals, The Federations, Intellectuals, preachers and other major Sikh Bodies should stand up to their responsibility and together sit and deliberate on the solutions and start a joint campaign like the Singh Sabha movement in the late 18th century. We need to inject a little seriousness into the resolution of this problem.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All