IOSS Seminar 2011 – Sikhism and Women
– A Report –
Lt Gen K.S. Gill & Ishwinder Singh
The Institute of Sikh Studies (IOSS), Chandigarh organized its annual seminar on “Sikhism and Women” on 6th November 2011 at its headquarters in Gurudwara Singh Sabha, Kanthala, Industrial Area Phase II, Chandigarh. A number of scholars from all over India participated in the deliberations.
The Seminar started with a Shabad recited by students of Kendri Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Chandigarh as is the norm every year. The morning session was chaired by the Bibi Harjinder Kaur, Member SGPC and former Mayor of Chandigarh. The stage secretary was S. Gurcharan Singh, also the Convener of the Seminar. The afternoon session was chaired by Dr. Jaspal Kaur Kang, Prof. and chairperson of Guru Nanak Sikh Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh. The stage secretary was S. Gurpreet Singh, Treasurer, IOSS.
S. Gurdev Singh IAS (Retd.), Patron of the IOSS welcomed the speakers and the audience. He provided a brief background of the IOSS and the various activities being undertaken by it.
Introducing the theme of the seminar Bibi Baljit Kaur, acting President of the IOSS said that the Sikh Gurus not only provided an ideological base through their hymns for socio- religious rehabilitation of women but also undertook several practical steps in this direction. Unfortunately, today there is a downward slide from our ancient pristine glory. She said that the federations, intellectuals, preachers and other major Sikh Bodies need to stand up to their responsibility and together sit and deliberate on the solutions to start a joint campaign to realize the Gurus’ vision.
In the Inaugural address, Dr. Gurnek Singh, VC, Guru Granth Sahib University, Fatehgarh Sahib praised the dedicated work for propagation of Sikh religion and literature by IOSS and its founder members - S Daljit Singh, S Jagjit Singh and Dr Kharak Singh. He felt that today the Sikhs are forgetting what the Gurus taught us. It is sad to see the fall in society's treatment of women. We need to ponder over why we are discriminating against women? Seva, langar and raising the sword against crime are our dharam. We now need to raise the flag of liberty to women and all mankind. Let us work towards this end in both our rural as well as urban areas as done by our Gurus. Dr. Singh lauded the role of IOSS in prominently taking this issue to the masses.
In the Keynote address reproduced in this issue, Prof. Shashi Bala, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Religious Studies, Dept. of Guru Nanak Studies, G.N.D.U., Amritsar explained the early history of Sikhs places men and women on an equal pedestal.
Dr. Kirpal Singh's paper studied the status of woman in the Sikh scripture. Dr. Rajinder Jit Kaur Dhindsa, Director, Institute of Advanced Studies in Sikhism, Patiala discussed the burning issues of Dowry and Female foeticide. She felt that the never-ending demands of the boy's family cause a heavy burden on the girl's family. This in turn leads to parents wanting to avoid having a girl child at all and is the primary reason for the skewed sex ratio in Punjab. She also briefly discussed the serious issue of sexual exploitation of girls by male relatives. She felt that a behavioral change was necessary to eliminate these evils from society.
Dr. Jaspal Kaur Kang explained how Guru Nanak was a social reformer par excellence and how his thoughts were revolutionary not only in light of his contemporary society but remain so even today. To achieve the mission of life, the great Guru propagated a balanced lifestyle of a householder in which both man and woman complement each other. In several of his compositions, he propagates the message of love and compassion using the metaphor of the female sex. Guru Amar Das states in his compositions that an ideal husband and wife are two bodies but one soul. The Gurus knew that by elevating the status of women they were ensuring natural transmission of Sikh heritage to the next generation.
Amandeep Singh’s scholarly paper (read out by Navjot Kaur) discusses how gender relations within Sikhism have been interpreted in Western paradigm.
Summing up the morning session, Bibi Harjinder Kaur praised the high standard material presented by the various speakers. She particularly appreciated the clear interpretation by Bibi Navjot Kaur of the difference in thoughts held by Western authors on the empowerment of the women vis-à-vis our Sikh authors. She appealed to all to imbibe the basic teachings of Guru Nanak on equality of man and woman. While man is gifted with physical strength, woman is bestowed with spiritual and moral strength- both of which are vital to human society. Woman must show confidence in herself and achieve the highest in her respective sphere through personal grit and determination. Sikh women can today proudly proclaim their strength in a congregation of world religions by virtue of the authority of the Gurus’ teachings.
The first speaker in the afternoon session was Dr. Rajni Bala who discussed the evil of female foeticide in her paper entitled “Womb of the mother becomes tomb of the girl child.”
Dr Rajesh Gill, Department of Sociology, Panjab University, Chandigarh stated that Sikh philosophy is most modern and democratic in nature. Various Sakhis show that the Gurus held women in high esteem and asked their Sikhs to treat even their enemies' women as their sisters. The Sikh Code of Conduct shows utmost respect for women and prohibits evils like dowry. It also preaches against the thought of women being impure.
However, in reality the problem of women being ill-treated is prevalent as much in Sikh society as in other religions. Moreover, commercialization is proving to be the greatest enemy of our own women and has moved them away from Sikhism. Our girls are weak and easily give up e.g when a Sikh girl marries out of her religion she normally converts to her husband's religion. She felt that we need to modernize our methods of preaching and presentation so that we are able to attract a young audience. Even our schools and colleges need to be involved in this.
Dr. Sukhdial Singh shared his research on Banda Singh Bahadur's wife. He averred that Banda had only married once and his wife was the Princess of Chamba, who took the name Rattan Kaur after marriage. Banda Singh Bahadur and his supporters (including his four and a half year old son) were tortured and martyred in front of her eyes. She could not bear this huge pain and ended her life shortly thereafter. She did not convert to Islam under pressure as has been stated by some historians.
Dr. Harsimranjeet Kaur narrated the life story of Maharani Jind Kaur, the youngest wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Her son Dalip Singh was of a tender age when he ascended the throne, therefore it was Jind Kaur who steered the Khalsa Raj in its last days and during the Anglo-Sikh wars. Due to treachery by her generals, the British won the war and Punjab was annexed by them. The British regarded her political acumen and steadfastness as a threat to their designs and had her banished from Punjab. Despite this she kept trying hard, no matter where she was, to regain control of Punjab until she breathed her last in 1863.
S. Partap Singh, DIG (Retd.) summarized the teachings of the Gurus which declare any discrimination on the basis of sex an act of Sacrilege. He then provided a summary about important Sikh women past and present.
S. Gurpreet Singh then read out three resolutions summarizing the day’s proceedings. The Seminar concluded with a vote of thanks by Bhai Ashok Singh, Spokesman of the IOSS.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All