Sikhism and Women
It is generally said that Sikhism followed the Bhakti movement, but its founder, Guru Nanak Dev and succeeding nine Gurus articulated a distinct spiritual and social doctrine based on socio-political situation and their own spiritual and mystical experiences.
Gurus felt concerned at the severely degraded and oppressed state of women, and preached the message of equality between both the sexes. This doctrine provides women an independent personality of her own and declares any discrimination against her on the basis of her sex an act of sacrilege.
Guru Nanak was the first personage in the religio-spiritual history of mankind to raise his voice against woman’s discrimination – He called her the mother of humankind, all great human beings – kings, saints & rulers are born of her and it is only “GOD” who is not born of her –
ਨਾਨਕ ਭੰਡੈ ਬਾਹਰਾ ਇਕੋ ਸਚਾ ਸੋਇ ॥
ਭੰਡਿ ਜੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਨਿੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਮੰਗਣੁ ਵੀਆਰਾ ।
ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੋਵੇ ਦੋਸਤੀ ਭੰਡਹੁ ਚਲੈ ਰਾਹੁ ॥
ਭੰਡੁ ਮੁਆ ਭੰਡੁ ਭਾਲੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਵੀਧਾਨੁ ।
ਸੋ ਕਿਉਂ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ ॥
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 473
The Sikh Gurus provided ideational basis in their hymns for the Socio-religious rehabilitation of woman and undertook several practical and reformative steps in this direction. She was given equal treatment in all the institutions established by Sikh Gurus. They took some concrete steps to eradicate prevalent evils of Sati, female infanticide, widow re-marriage etc. which had resulted in man’s discriminatory attitude towards her.
In Guru Granth Sahib, a woman is not considered an evil who leads astray. Nor is she regarded an obstacle in the realization of the spiritual ideals.
Sikhism is a householder’s religion for man and woman alike. The Sikh Gurus honoured the institution of marriage and strongly denounced ascetism practised by yogis. In fact, man and woman are considered complementory to each other, one is incomplete without the other. In fact, both man and woman are co-partners in their life as both command the same respect and equality. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1013 & 788)
Gurbani encourages woman to attain education. In Sri Guru Granth Sahib, there are many references giving the qualities of the ideal women – Suchaji, who is most noble of all the family with thirty two qualities.(Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p.371)
In Sri Guru Granth Sahib focus is on prevention of sex based discrimination and to put woman on an equal footing to man where she has the right to all aspects-spiritual, religious, ethical, cultural, educational, economical, political, social etc. of life. In deed Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the living Guru elevated the status of woman at par with that of man.
In this connection, a clear vision spelt out in Rehatnama – Code of Conduct documents also denounces any kind of marginalization of woman and recommends ostracizing of those who indulge in female infanticide and Purdah etc.
Historian Mr. W. Own Cole in his book “Teach yourself Sikhism” page 101 writes “The Sikh Theology offers the same rights and responsibilities to women as to men. It is the powerful influence of a Patriarchal Society that Sikh women have to overcome.”
The Future Perspective:
With the creation of Panth- Guru and Granth -Guru by Guru Gobind Singh, Khalsa Panth under the guidance of the Holy Word as embodied in the Scripture, was meant to instil the message of the Gurus in our living. However, as of today, the evils of female foeticide, dowry, alcoholism, domestic violence etc are prevalent-if not more-among the Sikhs as in any other community. The political authority, clan authority, religious authority is still in the hands of the male, notwithstanding the authority of husband at home. We have still to provide her place of equality even in the performance of religious duties.
The women need to empower themselves with higher level of education to unlearn some of the earlier habits of dependence, and to strive for self reliance. Here men too should realise that the woman’s well-being is sure to yield valuable inter-generational benefits important for the future of Sikh faith.
History of Important Sikh Women and Their Roles
Some of the outstanding and exemplary contributions made by Sikh women of faith, who were dedicated, devoted, deeply compassionate, kind – hearted, brave and courageous committed to truth, justice and righteousness are:
MATA TRIPTA JI, Mother of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and his sister Bebe Nanaki were two godly inspired women, who recognized and adored supreme divinity in him. Mata Tripta and Bebe Nanaki protected the innocent child from the wrath of his father. Their example teach us the virtues of caring, compassion, service and kindness.
MATA KHIWI - Known for her exemplary Sewa, whose name has been mentioned in SGGS.
BIBI AMRO - Daughter of Guru Angad Dev Ji inspired Amar Das, uncle of her husband with her sweet and melodious voice singing sabads. Amar Das became devoted Sikh and was picked up as successor by Guru Angad Dev Ji. She taught us how to adore, praise, glorify God through kirtan, and to live by the Sikh message.
Bibi Amro was incharge of one of the Manji’s – teaching and performing Kirtan to deliver discourses on Sikh teachings. This shows that a Sikh woman of faith can be a superb role model, mentor, guide and a preacher.
MAI BHAGO - In 1705, on learning that some Sikhs while fighting at Fort Anandpur Sahib had deserted Guru Gobind Singh, courageously organized, motivated, persuaded, led and guided the disheartened Sikhs back to fighting and thus won the battle of Muktsar for the Sikh forces. She demonstrated Khalsa spirit and taught us obedience, courage, strength and fortitude.
MATA GUJARI JI - Popularly known as “Sikh Minara” in history with 22 years of sewa, looked after iInitial training, care of Bal Gobind Rai at Patna Sahib, urged her 9 and 7 year old grand children, Zorawar Singh & Fateh Singh respectively, not to waiver in their faith. In 1705, for not accepting ISLAM, they were ordered by the Mughal Rulers to be bricked alive. We Sikhs, owe a deep sense of gratitude to her for teachings of her young grandchildren. What a glorious way to Martyrdom. She practically demonstrated how to keep an unwavering faith and unflinching devotion alive all your life.
MATA SUNDRI JI - Visionary Mata Sundri Ji with 42 years of elevated SEWA for giving directions in handling / pursuing of Guru Nanak Mission & Khalsa Panth in most crucial period of the Sikh history after 1708.
RANI JIND KAUR - Mother of Dalip Singh, the ruler of Lahore Kingdom, was the main force behind the uprising of 1848-49 against British Rule. She was one of the few Indians who was not only hated, but also feared by the rulers. She taught us to believe in our God given rights of freedom, liberty and justice for all.
DR. INDERJIT KAUR - Pingalwara Amritsar. A devoted and highly dedicated Gursikh lady of substance who has been conducting / managing the affairs of Pingalwara in serving humanity without consideration of caste, colour and creed with utmost care on voluntary basis – a selfless service to society.
BIBI SURINDER KAUR – JALANDHAR . A dedicated woman with Missionary zeal in adopting girl child discarded by our society, working single handed, has been able to save valuable lives of girls and has been able to raise these girls to an educated, role model girl children for taking up life challenge successfully. A mission showing exemplary courage in tackling menance killing / preventing birth of girl child in Punjab for which her services were recognized for Award of unknown HERO” by Reliance - CNN IBN instituted award recently.
BIBI MEJINDER PAL KAUR – Director Legal United Sikhs – USA. Highly dedicated and committed woman for the Worldwide Sikh Causes – Sewa at its roots relating to awareness of Sikh Articles of faith, issue of ‘turban’ in France, discrimination in service, school going children etc. Provision and distribution of humanitarian aid – food, shelter, medicines for people suffering from national calamities on international platform, Refugee and Taliban terror attacks on Sikhs in NWFP of Pakistan, in reaching out food aid, financial assistance and working with Government official for their protection and care.
Another Woman of substance in USA, Bibi Sapreet Kaur Saluja Exec. Director, “The Sikh Coalition and Vice Chairperson of Board Of Girl guides and girl scouts is shining example of vital role being played by our women on International scence needs to be appreciated.
Similarly as only a United Nation Organisation affiliated Sikh NGO – UNITED SIKHS with their presence at Amritsar has been providing financial assistance and rehabilitation for suicide case families of farmers and those affected by floods in addition to free legal aid.
What Modern Women Want Today
With the fast changing World Order, more and more opportunities are available in all the fields, higher education outlook, effect of surrounding environment, Sikh Women also aspire to become part of mainstream, both in Rural / Semi Rural & Urban areas. Some of the focus areas which concerns Modern Woman are :-
(a) Equal opportunity and support in educational field at par with men folk.
(b) To look smart, beautiful competing / at par with other women in all sphere of activities to overcome complex feelings in any form.
(c) Acceptance of Sikh Society for practising / un-conventional profession like film industry, theatre, beauty parlour, airlines, Sports etc. For this change of dress-code from conventional model need to be considered in liberal / modified maryada norms.
(d) Adjusting with busy trend of working couples in urban belt and women playing very active role even in small towns / rural areas for survival due to high cost of living, higher expectations and zeal to shine in life has despite finding lesser time / discarding excusses in drifting away from spiritualism / Sikh way of life. This may result in greater expectation from Gurudwara Institution in creating availability of motivational/innovative techniques, coupled with regular short / brief counselling from Gursikh Volunteers / well qualified Head Granthi for maintaining regular inter active dialogue on basic tenets of Sikhis and connected issues.
(e) Institution of local Gurdwaras needs to make programmes attractive and innovative by involving youth (Girls & Boys) in organizing spiritual, cultural and social activities on regular basis. Similarly in order to promote Punjabi language, working women expect proper teaching facility on weekends for children/others for which part time qualified teacher presence be made mandatory.
(f). Professional woman prefers to go for inter-caste marriage to non-Sikh or clean shaven Sikh, over a Puran Gursikh, a dangerous trend spreading like wild fire. But at the same time prefers to go for Anand Marriage.
Suggestive Proposal To Improve Condition
(1). Every locality-rural/semi-rural and urban town/city, gurdwara etc. have Sukhmani Sahib society”, managed by middle aged/elderly women. These formal/informal get togethers need to be energised by inducting Gursikh volunteers in initiating social and motivational topics of 10 minutes duration on regular basis. Experience of this group can be shared and family bound role of Sikh woman in all walks of life highlighted. This practice once started with seriousness shall bring in required awareness and may influence the youth in their family.
2.) Where educated young/middle aged woman groups are available and have working knowledge of computer-internet, a networking of professional or in any field may be formed to meet once a fortnight or so, at convenient times at different locations/starting from homes/local Gurdwara for undertaking Gurmat, social, cultural and welfare programs in addition to sewa for attending needy/elderly people, offering on the spot medical assistance, holding medical camps and solving other problems. While this Volunteer Networking women group shall be working independently towards joint effort at women empowerment in all sphere of life, only co-ordinating assistance is to be provided by one Gursikh volunteer in the back ground. This gives opportunity to all women in the group to contribute their specialised skill in solving/helping community members/others in enhancing their image, self confidence, faith in Gurbani and Sikhi way of life.
Similar model networking groups of Sikh women total involvement in their spare times has been adopted by Malaysian sangat successfully and is working effectively to develop Sikhi bonds, inner strength and cherish feeling of importance and satisfaction to women cause in playing active role in contributing to the society welfare.
3.) We need to organise celebration of leading Sikh women to remember their role/contribution in building Sikh society, service to humanity and active participation in improving the condition of women on all fronts. This program may be undertaken atleast twice a year on similar lines as we celebrate Gurpurbs as per well planned annual calendar of major events In fact such events should involve women to the maximum so that a gradual feeling of importance in the society is felt amongst them.
4). Printing Of Calendars - All calendars printing organizations like SGPC/DSGMC/Others and may be requested to include atleast one leading woman from history/current role models with brief background. Besides aiming at awareness, this shall inspire our youth in the right direction.
5). While we celebrate Gurpurabs with great devotion, total involvement of youth women/men be initiated while planning Bala Guru –Shri Har Krishan Sahib ji Purub. This will not only inspire youth- to play leading role in such events, make women feel playing important role and face challange but shall also add to their mindset in leading Sikhi way of life purposefully.
Our children accompanying parents also require special attention while we celebrate Gurpurbs’ to keep them occupied with useful activities in moulding their thoughts by organising (a) Punjabi language writing and reading skill and competition, Painting as hobby, Dastar Bandi/Keski competition for which good incentives/prizes be given to attract them for such programs till such time they can understand/appreciate the Gurpurub proceedings/Sabad Kirtan in separate hall within Gurdwara premises.
Sponsorship-Motivation Of Women For Undertaking Special Professional Courses.
In modern times women are playing lead role in our society specially in USA, Canada/Europe etc. Seeing from the successful working of Sikh society Groups/associations like “United Sikhs”, “The Sikh Coalition”, Kaur Foundation of USA & from European Countries, we find women with legal back ground, IT and Multi-media/Mass communication, journalist/writers etc are playing very effective and result orientated role and responsibilities in furtherance of Sikhi and Sikh cause.
It is suggested that similar experiment may be initiated in India for which sponsor and motivation of Sikh women to undertake specialised long/short term regular courses in the field for Law, Mass Communication, Journalism etc. be arranged coupled with Special skill & knowledge on Gurmat subjects needs to be encouraged. For this full financial Assistance as required be provided by our society/Education funds maintained by SGPC/DSGMC/NGOs/major Gurdwaras. However to start with some likeminded Agency/ies who are involved in the field of providing higher education/preparation for Central services, IITs courses etc may be requested to come forward to undertake such programs/mission for long term benefits in order to avoid delay.
This will be a great step in empowering Sikh Women who could become effective & visible Role Models for the community and show-casing Sikhi spirit and values while enhancing the role of Sikh Women in the fast changing 21st century.
These are some of the suggestions and many more can follow from our learned Sikh women groups/others who are presently actively involved in such pursuits. Their practical experience, ground realities, difficulty felt, if any, in undertaking/ execution of such programs keeping in view present mind set of Sikh women in India may be welcome to give right direction to these important issues concerning Sikh Woman.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All