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Great Sikh Women - Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa

Discussion in 'Essays on Sikhism' started by Harkiran Kaur, Jun 26, 2016.

  1. Harkiran Kaur

    Harkiran Kaur Canada
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    An excellent read and thought provoking analysis!

    Four years ago, I set out to write a book about some of the famous, inspiring women of the Guru Panth. It was a challenge, searching through our his-tory, finding just a glimpse here and a glimmer there of the remarkable women who contributed to the early years of our Panth. I was also blessed to make the acquaintance by internet, by phone, and in person of some great souls still living among us. When I was recently asked to give a presentation at the University of Toronto on Sikh women, I instantly knew I should return that honour by presenting on the realities and challenges of the great Sikh women of our past, present and future.

    Let us begin by asking who we consider to be a Sikh. Typically, we say that someone born into a Sikh home is a Sikh by default. There are also a rare few who have not been born into Sikh culture, but have nonetheless taken up Sikh beliefs and practices on a daily basis. Some Sikhs are visibly so; they can be recognized by their appearance. Others keep Sikh values in their hearts. Generally, we consider them all to be Sikhs.

    What makes a woman, or any person for that matter, great? We may say great and noble actions. Activities that make a positive difference in the lives of others. Significant success in any endeavor.

    stop-female-infanticide-10-728.jpg

    Having established this as our template, let us appreciate the world of the first great women of the Guru Panth. Much, of course, has changed in the five hundred years since Bebe Nanaki first adored her younger brother, recognizing in him the light of God. The majority of us have since migrated from farming villages to industrial cities and towns. From closely-knit family and community ties, we now are widely dispersed, reaching out to each other electronically by texting and cell phone and email.

    Family life too has changed. Mata Khivi, Bibi Amaro, Bibi Bhani, Mata Ganga, Mata Gujari, and Mata Krishan Kaur call out to us across centuries of blessings and troubles known to them, but impossible for us to imagine. In the days before ultrasounds and maternity wards, bottle feeding and cribs, daycares and kindergartens, childbirth and childrearing must also have varied a lot from what mothers experience in our time.

    The most famous woman of Sikh history may be Mai Bhago. Celebrated in story and song, there is even a Gurudwara built in her honour. She is today universally acclaimed. It is difficult for us however, living three hundred years later, to picture how people must at first have reacted when Mai Bhago challenged her husband and the other men who had forsaken Guru Gobind Singh, the lost souls we would eventually come to know as "the forty liberated ones." Like Guru Nanak Dev's pronouncement that there is no Hindu and no Muslim, like Guru Hargobind's establishment of the institution of Miri Piri, and like the Tenth Master's founding of the Khalsa, Mai Bhago's action flew in the face of established convention. And like their actions, it must have been controversial in its time.

    Other great women of the Guru Panth have also courageously made their presence known and felt across the ensuing generations. Through difficult times, Mata Sahib Kaur and Mata Sundari together managed the affairs of the Khalsa in the early 1700s. A generation later, Rani Sahib Kaur bravely joined the forces of Patiala, Jind, Nabha and Kalsian to fend off the invading army of the Marathas, only to later be imprisoned and killed in the fort of Patiala, as a helpless woman. The 19th century witnessed the heroism of Rani Jindan as she did her best to safeguard her young son, Maharaja Daleep Singh from the predations of the imperial British. In the UK, her half-daughter, Princess Sophia boldly joined the suffragette struggle to give women the vote. Back in Punjab, poet Amrita Pritham gave an unforgettable voice to the dreams and heartaches of Punjabi speakers everywhere.

    Thanks to changing social mores, the famously great women of the 21st century are less confined to private spaces than their forebears. In Amritsar, Dr. Inderjit Kaur today manages the busy affairs of Pingalwara and her gender is no constraint. In Jalandhar, Bibi Prakash Kaur raises abandoned baby girls at her unique home named after Bhai Ghanayya Ji. Not far away, Bibi Parmjeet Kaur Khalra carries on her work defending the rights of the oppressed.

    Based in Britain, the Singh Twins showcase their thought-provoking art on three continents. In Afghanistan, Member of Parliament Dr. Honarkali Kaur Honaryar does her utmost to advocate for women oppressed in her country. American Bibi Krishna Kaur Khalsa, the only woman to have performed keertan in the Harimandir Sahib (in 1980), travels and shares her inspiration widely. Dr. Nikki Guninder Kaur Singh writes influential books and teaches religion at Colby College in America. Bibi Amrit Singh does fabulous human rights work at the American Civil Liberties Association. At Stanford University in the US, Bibi Manpreet Kaur, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, fastidiously pushes back the boundaries of medical knowledge. Also in America, Bibi Shauna Singh Baldwin is an accomplished author of historical fiction. In Canada, we have Members of Parliament, Bibi Anju Dhillon, Bibi Bardish Chagger, Bibi Kamalpreet Khera, Bibi Ruby Sahota, and Bibi Sonia Sidhu. In the corporate world, Bibi Rani Turna is the Senior Vice President of CIBC, a major Canadian bank. Bibi Palbinder Kaur serves as the Amritdhari general counsel for the World Sikh Organization. We also have talented Sikh performers among us - singer Bibi Harshdeep Kaur of India, keertaniyaa Bibi Snatam Kaur Khalsa of the U.S., comedian Bibi Lilly Singh and actress Bibi Karenjit Vohra, both of Canada.

    While some texts and internet sites would have us believe that Sikh women of extraordinary merit died out a couple of centuries ago, women of our faith today are making real contributions to the world, perhaps more than ever before. What is remarkable is that whereas Sikh heroines of the past were almost without exception wives and mothers, many of the accomplished Sikh women of our times remain unmarried. Clearly, for many strong and intelligent Sikh women who want to devote themselves to a calling or career, remaining single is a preferred option over a traditional Punjabi marriage with children and the attendant obligations of family care. Another new historical development is that, out of the eight accomplished women in this group who are known to be married, half have married non-Sikhs. For these women, marriage to a non-Punjabi also means living without Punjab's traditional social strictures.

    Many Sikh women in the modern world find themselves at a crossroads. The principles of their religion as publicly stated and the values of secular society together guarantee their equality with men in every realm of life. Punjabi tradition, however, does not accord them equal participation in social or religious life. Conservative Punjabi culture prizes a woman's deference to the extent that it is considered a father's duty to kill an errant daughter rather than allow her to "smear the good name of the family." Even at birth, Punjabi social mores still silently condone the killing and abandonment of hundreds of baby girls every year.

    In our globalized society, ignorance of the facts is longer a valid excuse. And there is really no place to hide. This is no longer a family matter that can be hushed up. The whole world now knows the horrific statistics of female abortions in Punjab. Canada's Doris R. Jakobsh and others have done credible and meticulous studies of Sikh women's role through history, including the debates (not settled until 1915) whether the women of the Panth could or could not be initiated into the Khalsa by the same khande dee pahul ceremony as their brothers. This research highlights the dynamic tension that has existed for centuries between the egalitarian ideals of our time and the male-dominated culture of historic Punjab.

    While some would say that ambitious Sikh women let their families and their community down when they choose not to marry or to marry outside of the Panth, others may argue that it is the Panth that has let these women down by not treating them in accord with its own professed values. Granted, old habits can be hard to change. It is easy to pass a law forbidding the practice of dowry, but difficult to enforce. It is easy to campaign against female infanticide, but when the entire family into which a young woman has married and especially her mother-in-law, want her to abort a female fetus, it can seem there is no option but to submit.

    If Sikh men want intelligent women to cherish and remain within the social confines of the Panth, that Panth should then also cherish and support them as valued members by giving them equal status and opportunity in all things. It is absurd that women are not encouraged to take a rightful place performing Gurbani keertan in all Gurdwaras, most principally, Sri Harimandir Sahib.

    Why is this not allowed? Is it because, like the Taliban, orthodox rule-makers consider the sound of women's voices seductive even when they are singing divine keertan? Their voices could then be electronically distorted to remove any hint of their beauty. Is it because of their alluring faces that women keertaniyaa are not permitted as Hazooree Raagees? There could be a partition erected - or better still, the men in the Sadh Sangat could be required to have their eyes blindfolded during the raginis' performance. Or is it, as a brother suggested to me, that the keertaniyaa might be having their monthly menses and thus be "unclean" when they come to perform in that holy place? Incredible! When are we going to leave this hodgepodge of medieval thinking?

    Are we forever to be constrained by the shackles of tradition? Because something has never happened before, are we to never allow it to happen? If Harimandir Sahib could be given electrical power in 1897 (but not without resistance from traditionalists) and democratic governance in 1925 (not without struggle and sacrifice), is it not time now in 2016 to allow inspired Sikh women to serve there on an equal footing with their brothers?

    Many of us live in societies where secular education, pop culture, alcohol, drugs, and ever more seductive digital distractions challenge our ability to pass our religious values and practices on to our next generation. Unlike the communities of historic Punjab where Sikhi could be learned almost by osmosis, today only a steady example at home can inspire the replication of Sikh values in our children. If for this reason alone, the strength and self-assurance of Sikh wives and mothers should be more valued and nurtured today than at any time before.

    Sikh women have come a long way against great odds in almost all walks of life. If the past hundred years have been any indication, they will increasingly claim their place in the world as inspired and creative contributors. Where social restrictions stand in their way, progressive women will use their intelligence, courage and ingenuity to find their way. For some, that will mean emigrating from Punjab to find places where their unique talents and genius are welcomed. For others, it could mean not marrying. Others still may choose to find a husband outside the Panth. Some may leave Sikhi altogether, or stay and live to see their children shed distinctive Sikh habits and ceremonies. A great many will stoically and silently bear the brunt of gender discrimination within the Panth, hoping for a better day.

    Though diminished in numbers through heinous birth selection practices and denied equal opportunities, the great grand-daughters of Bibi Bhani and Mata Sahib Kaur can be expected to soldier onwards regardless. The world comprising human rights activists, feminists, sociologists, experts in comparative religion, and more, watch with curious anticipation. What awards and respect conservative Singh Sahibs and Granthis accord the women of today may be seen as awards and respect for us all. And whatever is denied the women and girls of this Panth, in truth, is denied each one of us as our destinies are inseparably intertwined, father and daughter, mother and son, for together we are the

    Guru Panth.
    Fatha

    Great Sikh Women | SikhNet
     
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  3. Seeker2013

    Seeker2013 India
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    yet in Indian school syllabus we're only told of one brave woman and that is Jhansi ki rani

    biased schools
     
  4. Sikhilove

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    The great Sikh women of the past still serve us as inspiration for Sikh women to be strong in mind, will and action and show the equality that God has blessed both men and women with and that women can still encompass the qualities of bravery and fearlessness and standing up and fighting for Truth through thick and thin.

    It is very sad to see many Sikh women remaining stuck deep in 'Brown' culture and putting up with beatings and abuse from husbands and male relatives and males in general. This is by no means what our Gurus taught and women like Mai Bhago are a prime example of this. We bear children, yes but at the same time, we are independant and free spirits and souls who Always have a choice.

    It would be excellent to see more sikh women first and foremost, stand up for themselves and show men that they will not bow down to tyranny and abuse.
     
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  5. Kully

    Kully United Kingdom
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    A very nice article. Two points I would like to make. Princess Sophia was Rani Jindan's grand-daughter. I'm not even sure what a half-daughter is, maybe it was a typo.

    Secondly, sikh women marrying out the panth excusing themselves on their "treatment" is a very feeble excuse. Other religions give women much less rights/opportunities but you don't see them doing the same. Sikh women marry out of the Panth (as do men) because they have no love or affection for the Panth.
     
  6. Seeker2013

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    I think there are 3 major reasons for why sikh women marry outside the panth :
    1) They think of sikh men as unattractive !
    Lets face it. Bollywood and worldwide, since turbaned and fully bearded men are minority, we're often not on the front pages of sensual magazines , and world today for most party is sensual , hence sikh men are largely seen as unattractive. This is not universal though.
    I have seen lots of handsome sikh men, but for the most part, for some reason, that largely escapes woman's rader.

    2) Sikh men portrayed as goofy and butt of jokes by indian media
    I don't have to elaborate on this. We all know. Sikh women might feel ashamed to be with sikh men. Perhaps, and most likely yes, the ridicule of sikh men by indian film industry was deliberate. Notice how most sikh jokes started after 80's . Its as if indian govt wanted to exact a revenge .
    Also sikh men are often shown as loud, burping quite a lot after having chicken and alcohol, or makki di roti , saag and lassi. Such stereotypes don't help at all.

    3) Lack of confidence in one's own culture
    When I was a kid growing in the 90's , I remember I would feel embarassed by simple things like loud shouting of jaikaras in public lets say on nagar kirtan or prabhat feris, or any such thing . Now I look back and wonder why I felt the way I felt. Even today I feel like this. I feel people frm other communities see us with ridicule sometimes.
    This feeling might be a result of point 2 mentioned above.
     
  7. Harkiran Kaur

    Harkiran Kaur Canada
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    While there may be some women leaving and marrying outside because of the above, there are also many who are leaving because they don't feel there is anything for them in Sikhi (well not Sikhi but how some are running Sikhi). Let's say you have some very eager young Singhnis who dream to sing Kirtan. The fact that no matter how good they get even if they become better than most of the males who perform at Darbar sahib, they will never be able to, simply because they are female. Then, they see most gurdwara management committees are all male run, meaning the power and control is nearly all in male hands giving women no voice in the Panth. Even at the gurdwara level, most of the prominent seva are done by males.... How often do you see Singhnis on Guru Jis tabiya? Leading ardaas? Taking hukamnama? Running gurdwara affairs? They do exist ( my own local Gurdwara is evidence of it... Currently a female president, I'm also on the executive second year in a row now, most Kirtan is done by women and usually female leads ardaas but we are an exception). I've heard stories where grumpy old Singhs discourage young Singhnis from running for position on executive telling them only men do that so why would they want to... Instead trying to get them to stay in the langar kitchen. While langar is certainly an important seva, it's definitely not seen as prominent nor leadership role at all. And yet that's where most women end up while men run everything. How do you think it will affect a very eager young Singhni who loves her faith, when jathedars at Darbar sahib tell her only men can even touch the palki sahib? That females are impure and so they can't touch it.... So yes while some might leave for clean shaven etc there are still plenty of clean shaven males who profess to be Sikhs so that is not entirely valid reason. They could still marry a Singh who is sehejdhari. No, many are leaving because in today's world women want to participate equally in running of things, and especially be seen as equals in their own spirituality and faith. They don't want to be relegated to background anymore.
     
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  8. Kully

    Kully United Kingdom
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    Harkiran Ji, Sikh females who are strong in Sikhi are not leaving Sikhi because of any bar from any sewa. I have not heard of 1 case where a Sikh female who was strong in Sikhi left Sikhi because she could never do any of the sewas you have mentioned above.

    It seems more like hysteria to me. Sure there are things that we can be angry with, or disillusioned with when we see certain practices or face obstacles (as I have done), but to say that someone (male or female) would abandon their cherished faith over it, is nothing more than hysteria or a scare tactic.
     
  9. Kully

    Kully United Kingdom
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    Some very valid points there but the overriding reason would be that they are not strong in their own Sikhi.
     
  10. Harry Haller

    Harry Haller United Kingdom
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    Harkiranji

    Although I appreciate your argument, other than your own personal experiences, do you know of anyone that has actually left Sikhi because of the above? If you have any links you can share with us, I for one would be most interested in reading more.
     
  11. Ishna

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    Hysteria - strong word. But yeah, females have that terrible penchant for hysteria, don't they? :)
     
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  12. Harkiran Kaur

    Harkiran Kaur Canada
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    I actually do. Severel. They became spiritual but not following any specific religion because they felt that no religion cares about women and all religions give males much more privilege with regards to the religion itself, leadership and running of things etc. They didn't want to remain in background where men run everything anymore.

    Why is it that men feel they should run everything anyway? Do you guys really think we are incapable of leading, are less spiritual level, or that Women were created just to be submissive and obedient to men?? In other words many Singhs feel that women should just shut up sit quietly and listen to the men and do what men say while the men run the gurdwara, make all the decisions etc. It's not true everywhere as I stated that our gurdwara is very progressive and women have been president several times. I have served second year in a row now on management committee. But it's definitely true at Darbar sahib. And in UK it seems to be a common theme. And yes some girls leave because of it. Doesn't mean they don't believe in Gurbani or Waheguru, just means they no longer want to be part of an organized system that devalues them and sees them as being lesser because they are female.
     
  13. Harry Haller

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    Sorry, just to clarify, did they begin as Sikhs? Sikhism itself cares about women, about privelage, about equality, I think you may be confusing those that call themselves Sikhs with what should be Sikh philosophy and thinking. There is nothing wrong with Sikhism, what you are coming up against is traditional Punjabi thinking.

    If I had written the above about women, you would have had something to say, are you saying all men feel they should run everything? if not, please clarify your statements, tarring all men with the same brush, in my opinion does not help your argument.

    Again, addressed to all men, do you believe all men feel this way?

    and many Singhs, including this one, do not feel this way

    that is a very sad opinion and outlook for the current state of Sikhism, my personal feelings are that as time goes on, younger and more inclusive thinking will make Sikhism more aligned with what it should have been, people like yourself are the cogs that are making this happen, you are a very special person, a very special cog, and I have full belief that you will bring about change, I would ask that you confine your frustration and feelings to the men that deserve it, and accept that not all men see women as inferior.

    My original question, do you know of any women who have actually left Sikhism due to this, still stands, as I said above, I would be most interested to read any links or stories about such, or if you could share a personal experience, we could all learn from it.
     
  14. Harkiran Kaur

    Harkiran Kaur Canada
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    Of course it is traditional Punjabi thinking and not Sikhi!! You and I know this but what about those imposing it?? It comes down to the practicality. Leave someone out long enough and they lose interest. And yes that is sad! We should be encouraging everyone whether they are boy or girl.

    And thanks Harry Ji! But I am nobody special. And yes I know it's only some males who think like this but problem is they are the ones who currently have control. I will certainly try my best to encourage others to also put pressure on these bozos to make Sikhi what it should be.

    And as I said I know a few. I will try to get them to write something as their story are not really on the net they are local where I live.
     
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  15. Harry Haller

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    As men we are here to help you, not hinder you, as men we want the same change, this is not a fight for women only, this is a fight for all of us, men and women.
     
  16. Harkiran Kaur

    Harkiran Kaur Canada
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    Empowering everyone no matter what their gender, caste, social status, ethnicity etc will elevate the entire planet. As soon as we start to elevate some over others, we have already lost the point.
     
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  17. Kully

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    I don't beleive that females are more prone to hysteria than men, but word hysteria, strong as it is, describes aptly the notion that female Sikhs are leaving SIkhi because of the reasons mentioned above.
     
  18. Harry Haller

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    Kullyji

    I am afraid I have to take the side of my dear sister, recently in the commons, our dear leader dave told a female politician to 'calm down dear', its the thin end of the wedge, its how it all starts, your post stands, but it is important to see not only content of posts, but also underlying sentiment, I have been guilt of such in the past, we all have at some time, but points can be made and debated in the same manner of chess, respect your opponent, win the argument through fact, tact, diplomacy, I think we should all try it, speaking personally, I find debating and replying much more pleasant if it is done in a respectful manner.

    Although this post is replied to yours, I think the sentiments apply to all of us.
     
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