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Images: details from "Mai Bhago", a painting by Canadian artist Kanwar Singh [].


As a Woman, I Ask:
Is Your Sikhi Limited to the Gurdwara?







As of late, the media has picked up investment in women’s rights, particularly Indian women and the rape plague encompassing India. My brothers have awoken and have taken more investment in the absence of women’s representation in the media and inside our communities.

Although I appreciate the affection, I take this new attention with an “eye roll”.

There is an enormous part of me that accepts that women have turned into the new feature, simple to reblog, post, and make a speedy status about. We have all become internet activists, with the instant gratification it provides us.

Not a single person wants to spend more than a moment to inquire about or explore why the framework is the way it is. Our story, our battle has been streamlined into a simple quick click of the mouse.

We need to ask, what have we done in our day-to-day lives to promote women’s safety and equality?

More importantly, is it even safe for women to discuss their rights?

I was set to call out my Sikh brothers. However, I was reminded Sikhs don't oppress or discriminate against women, we are all equivalent. It is the Punjabi culture which requires the calling out; the possessive, patriarchal society that has entwined with our Sikhi.

Ostensibly, we demonstrate our Sikhness: at the gurdwara, men clean the plates, serve langar, mop the floors. Yet, inside the four entryways of our homes, do men clean the dishes or help serve?

Sikhi just exists in the gurdwaras, but in our homes we return to Punjabi culture.

So, I ask: does Sikhi just apply in the gurdwaras?

Fascinating how the one thing that raises an eyebrow is our sexuality; indeed, it is the main thing that gets attention.

When it comes to sexuality, something men have asserted as theirs to take once wedded, their ears have perked. A woman in that aspect belongs to the man, and once a woman has suffered sexual abuse, essentially the man’s property has been tainted; there is invested interest.

Like a jealous child when another child plays with his toys. 

Men have overlooked past damages and dangers that have come our way; child abuse scarcely gets talked over, domestic abuse is swept under the rug, and even women have accepted it as a part of married life. A woman is not always able to leave the situation.

If it’s not possible to create equality in our households, it’s still our duty to create equality amongst our daughters and sons. The degradation in our culture and communities needs to be changed. 

I ask once again, does Sikhi only exist in the gurdwaras?

We are stuck in a society based around the man, which throughout history has made us complicit in the annihilation of women. In fact, the few well known women in our history are portrayed in association with their men.

Bibi Amro, we are told, was the daughter of Guru Angad; Mata Khivi, his wife. Bibi Nanaki, Guru Nanak’s sister.

Their full duties as driving forces and warriors unto themselves, we are told, are dominated by the men they upheld.

The genuine result?

Adolescent Sikh girls are expected to act in the traditional gender roles, but are told they are equals.

We have to change our Punjabi language and its descriptors.

Our community’s value on a woman’s virginity and honour is extreme and holds no merit. The shadow named ‘bezti’ which is appended to a female if anything uncommon happens is crooked, subsequently leaving the female feeling unsupported and shunned.

Where are the men who battled the Nadir Shahs and who overcame the Ahmed Shah Abdalis? Where are the Jassa Singh Ahluwalias? Where have they all gone?

In Guru Gobind Singh’s time, women were emancipated, they marched against armies, were commanders, even jathedars.

Assuming that you have the need to really do something, why not stand with us, and take us out of the glass house you have placed us in? We are not zoo creatures, art on display, which needs to be gazed at, or which needs to be recovered.

We can safeguard ourselves, indeed, that is the main thing we've generally had; solidarity among sisters.

Why not ask us to actually contribute to the solutions, to the change?

It is one thing for a woman to ask why she is serving chai, it would be different if the man being served, asked why?

Get us into the gurdwaras and community centres discussing our issues. Help us make our own particular documentaries, and help us create our own stories, our own depiction.

In today’s society, a Sikh man’s responsibility is to help remind the woman she is already emancipated, not try to emancipate her.

For umpteen eras, the man has composed our story; the time has come to let us compose our own.

We are real; we are a part of the community.

We have more to offer, besides what is between our thighs.

We are more than our sexuality, more than our "innocence being taken".

The definition of what an ideal Indian woman is, needs to be rewritten. History has continually taken from us, and yet, we will continue to be resilient, rise at every occasion, like a phoenix out of the ashes.

The call for sovereignty beats through the Sikh custom, it’s in our veins, in our blood.

A new era of Sikh women have risen, they are wellsprings of impulse, astuteness and authority in their communities. Our Gurus taught us how to overcome overwhelming odds, and so I hope; I hope Sikhi permeates our minds, our homes, our streets and I hope for Sikhi to not stop at the gurdwara doors.



We invite your thoughts and responses to the issues raised in this article. Please post them hereunder.


[The author is a student at the Unversity of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In June 2013, Harsharan was selected one of Amnesty International's "Top-20 Canadians 25 & Under." She has worked for the RCMP as a 911 operator for the past 5 years.] 

September 6, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Jasmeet Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), September 06, 2013, 9:14 AM.

A powerfully written piece! Thank you, Harsharan ji, for your honesty and courage. Goes straight to the heart of the matter. Hope both men and women will read it carefully and give some serious thought to its message.

2: Jasmine Kaur (USA), September 06, 2013, 9:58 PM.

Harsharan Kaur- wonderfully said! Often even men and women activists who talk big about gender equality practice it only ocassionally as a token of public PR. I hope your article will make many think! And at least make some genuinely act!

3: Prabhjot Singh (Amritsar, Punjab), September 06, 2013, 11:39 PM.

Great question and well said. Today, there is hypocrisy every where. Many are using Sikhi for personal benefits. The gurdwara is where we learn the lessons, amongst the sadh sangat. But our 'exam', our test, is outside the walls of the gurdwara. If my father and mother follow the Guru's teachings strictly or show full faith in Guru Granth Sahib, I can automatically follow it. But this is not happening in society today. Many read gurbani just to pass the time or to show others that they are Sikh.

4: Charandeep Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), September 07, 2013, 10:53 PM.

"Our dwellings may be weak but our hearts are strong", Sikhs of those days used to say. Now it has become just the opposite. Along with making buildings, our endeavor should be to take the teachings of our great faith to the world, especially the younger generation. As I have earlier said in one of my comments that women have a great role to play. Most of us will remember our grandmothers telling us tales of valor, sacrifice and service of Bidhi Chand, Banda Singh Bahadar and Bhai Kanhaiyya. Read more, tell more - let our coming generations be proud of the great faith they are born in.

5: Jeewan Jot Kaur (New York, USA), September 08, 2013, 3:50 PM.

I thought and said this 40 years ago when I too was 25. Ever since, the epic journey into the dark pit of misunderstanding has been unfolding. This age, as we know it, is the age of extreme concentration which does not allow expansion (female power) to be recognized. As for me it is now more than ever out of the question to submit to any other law but the one of my creator. Guru Granth Sahib made us strong ... that has to be in your guts ... every manifestation of oppression is right at your face with the clarity that Guru gave us. You just can't live like a parrot. You must live your freedom. Freedom is God, God is freedom!

6: B Miller (Marysville, Michigan, USA), September 09, 2013, 3:16 PM.

A very moving article! I am a white American and I live in an area that has many Sikhs. I have worked with them on my job. I do not claim to know anything about their religion. However If they believe in the same God as we do, He does not intend for any women to be a slave to anyone, even their husbands. I know it will be hard for them but if they live in a country that allows these freedoms, these women must join together and fight (not physically) for their rights as human beings. This is a form of slavery and needs to be stopped! God, I'm sure, wants equality for them also!

7: Rup Singh (Canada), September 10, 2013, 2:24 PM.

Sikhi is not gender specific and will exist everywhere if a individual chooses to apply it. Sikhi is within and cannot be worn or taken off, or shown off. Sikhi is not a physical object that can be carried or stored or controlled. Guru Gobind Singh gave us the eternal Shabad Guru and a Sikh must only seek guidance from Shabad Guru and no one else. Gurbani is Guru, and its gyan is scientific and will be relevant in any age. God created everyone equal and in Sikhi it's wrong to oppress and equally wrong to accept oppression. Can women unite and take what is rightfully theirs?

8: Sukhi Singh (United Kingdom), September 15, 2013, 9:56 AM.

I read this article and the main issue raised by the article was: Does Sikhi just exist for some people in Gurdwaras only? Obviously it should not but for some it probably does. We make the effort to appear to follow Sikhi within the gurdwara by doing seva like washing dishes and serving langar. We also appear to listen closely to katha or shabads. The bottom line is that the majority are not getting the message through as they do not understand word for word what is being said. People must make the effort to go home and learn and research for themselves what is taught and expand on it. We can see that practically people do not understand as in their daily life they go out of their way to hurt each other and back-bite each other; this is a major issue in our community ... all of which is against the Sikh way of life. We see people still doing basic wrong things like drinking so much alcohol that they lose complete sense of themselves. I notice the article was written from a woman's point of view. This was worrying for me as this is the second article written using strong words like 'oppress.' The other article I read was "Kaurs: An identity crisis." I will say again that I feel women are so fortunate as they have an aura. Some are very confident and some are shy but ultimately you can still tell they are Kaurs. Bottom line is that our community is riddled with all kinds of inequalities. It is up to the good amongst us to spread the message to educate the bad. Sukh and Dukh are both gifts from Waheguru. Sometimes even if women are not treated equal in real life -- which is something that clearly needs to be corrected -- the fact is that in Sikhi there are no ifs and buts over the issue of total equality. That is a good start -- something that no other religion has. To take Morgan Freeman's example in respect to racism, let's not class each other as black or white. His approach is to be aware of the issue but practically combat it in our daily lives, where possible, in a peaceful way. The article nonetheless makes me aware there is such inequality out there and will think of ways in my daily life to combat it, first of by most likely doing the dishes today as a starter!

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Is Your Sikhi Limited to the Gurdwara?"

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