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Women in Sikhi

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Navdeep88, Nov 20, 2011.

  1. Navdeep88

    Navdeep88 Canada
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    I have an issue that's troubling me... It seems like not only in Sikh History but the current identity of Sikhi is shaped heavily by men. Recently, there was a pole on here about who the most influential figures were in Sikh History... not a single woman on the list. And usually the only woman who gets credit is Mai Bhago, sadly I think it's because she stepped into what was considered a male role.

    Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 11.47.41 AM.png

    Why are women overlooked so often in Sikh History? I don't have an issue with having 10 fathers, at all. But why are women shoved so far behind... they're virtually voiceless. And when a woman DOES have a voice (ie. Maharani Jinda), its almost shown to be off putting or unfeminine. Often times, a lamenting female is shown to be more acceptable... is that still the accepted idea of femininity??

    This is also prevalent today. I speak from what I am exposed to: there is a growing culture of Sikh male rappers. Why is it that they can have the image of a Sikh, be lauded for what they're doing, preach about this and that and still make songs about how they want a girl with nice lips and nice hips? Or act like a woman supposed to be revolving around a man, like that's her sole role in life. Say things like "I'm the earth and she's the moon, and God's the sun." Yea, right. How about co-planets??

    What are your thoughts on this issue? Sikhi's supposed to be about equality, and self-sufficiency... why do these archaic ideas have so much weight and are totally acceptable?
     
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    #1 Navdeep88, Nov 20, 2011
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  3. Kanwaljit Singh

    Kanwaljit Singh India
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    That's a very interesting observation. But whenever I read about her, I see a Sikh who took up arms to protect her Guru and left everything behind to run to the battle field!

    That is not true if we see it from Gurbani point of view.

    It is hard to say what subset are you trying to observe. But yes in Indian, Punjabi and most male psyche, that is kind of true. Many men find assertive women a bit 'attractive' but only as long as they don't assert themselves on them.

    Hehe there is free will, but I don't approve of it.

    Hmm that is indeed very true. Most of the people would have that view of life (even if they don't consider themselves to be the sun!). The anand Karaj does not talk about someone revolving around something. It talks about merging. Becoming one.

    I have teenage punjabi girls telling me, that while their brothers are encouraged to drink with the family, they are asked not to do so at all. Why is this happening? Well you all can guess how that girl feels and how she rebels.

    I once wanted my cousin to mention this to her father 'Why are you being forced to become a doctor while your brother is allowed to go for business undergrad?' She never asked and although her father got easy on her soon, I knew he was being partial in the beginning.

    Why in the world we have different expectations from our daughters, sisters and mothers? While we are different towards our brothers, sons and fathers?

    I don't know. I have no idea how much of a sexist I am myself..

    But I know how much my mom is responsible for giving me Sikh values. She is the first and most important person as far as my religion is concerned. I remember when I was small, she would read at least 2 saakhis every night before I went to sleep. She taught me Punjabi, and the Baanis of Japuji Sahib, Rehras Sahib etc. She always took me to Bangla Sahib every sunday and almost daily in the evening to local Gurudwara. She took such good care of my hair, she washed and combed it properly, kept it uncut for me, such that I have now really beautiful tresses (though I cannot manage them so well on my own!). She still makes Karah Prasad on every sangraand/gurupurab and does Sehaj Paath on and on for the family. She has taught me the value of honesty, truth and being fearless. She never took up the caste we had, and made sure that it was not included in my name on birth certificate. And yes, all the while we had walks around the colony, we would talk endlessly about Sikhi. The women who saw their children getting killed and into a garland around them, had no names. Yet they are an ever lasting symbol of importance of mothers in Sikhi. Men just hop from one age to another, taking support from mother and sisters in young age, wife while he's an adult and daughters while he is going old. So women are very much a fabric of Sikhi, today and tomorrow.

    If those archaic ideas have more weight and acceptablilty, then these facts have total immovability of hills and zero deniability.
     
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  4. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    I have heard myself compared to our beloved Mai Bhago whom I am named after, so perhaps I am a good woman to address this issue, although any Sikhni certainly could and I hope others will.

    Sikhi as taught by our Gurus obviously teaches gender equality. Unlike other teachings of the day and even today, women are held in high esteem in theory in Sikhi on a par with men. So why, in practice, is Sikhi so very sexist?

    I think there are two related reasons. The first is the Punjabi culture which is extremely patriarchal. Although all eleven Gurus teach against sexist practices, they have been so far unable to break the hold of this aspect which is actually the foundation of Punjabi culture. Most Sikhs very jealously guard their Punjabi identity, often, even usually putting it before their Sikh identity. This is most prevalent in Punjab itself where woman are not allowed to sing kirtan or do much of the sewa in Darbar Sahib (Amritsar) itself! In addition, of course, is the whole concept of honour (izzat) which is dumped squarely onto the females of the family. Things that young males do with impunity are highly detrimental, sometimes even fatal, to their sisters. Certainly these gender specific beliefs have no place in the Sikhi taught by our Gurus, but until the time that Sikhs are willing to let go of the negative aspects of Punjabi culture, the women will continue to be discriminated against in a variety of ways. The rules are generally less rigidly enforced in the diaspora, but even in North America, where I live, Singhs often feel free to beat and otherwise mistreat their wives and the wives keep quiet, knowing that they would, at best, be held responsible for their husbands bad behaviour. (Note: I just today read an interesting report about smoking and drinking among young people from South Asian cultures in Britain. I recommend reading it. I found it fascinating. (http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/634/1/WRAP_Bradby_Aunties_Asians.pdf)

    The second and related reason is our "rulebook," the Sikh Rehat Maryada itself. As an amritdhari Sikh, I feel that I am bound to follow it - and I do - but I am not blind to its faults; it is an incredibly sexist document, a reflection of both the worst of Punjabi and of British cuture. If it seems that I am being harsh, just read the section on anand Karaj. Aside from the obvious symbolism of the boy leading the girl in all four lavaans, we find references, such as, " A Sikh's daughter must be married to a Sikh" (What about a Sikh's son?)and "A baptised ought to get his wife also baptised" (Might not the amritdhari wife get the husband "baptised"?) (I suggest reading the whole Chapter XI, Article XVIII. In fact, I suggest reading the entire SRM.)

    And, of course, men are mandated to wear the turban, while it is optional for women.

    Let me at this time acknowledge that while there are other Maryadas currently being used, the SRM is generally accepted by most people calling themselves Sikhs.

    I do have solutions to both these problems. I'm afraid my first suggestion will be very unpopular, but I see it as necessary. If we cannot liberalise the Punjabi patriarchy - and we certainly haven't done so - it must be abandoned. Clutching to its backward, sexist precepts not only harms our women and girls, it also prevents Sikhi from becoming a true world religion. The world needs what we have. What right have we to effectively exclude those of other cultures?

    Secondly, the SRM is badly in need of revision. Given the very serious problems the Sikh Kaum is facing right now, this seems unlikely, but at some point, it must be undertaken.

    I realise that these ideas are controversial; I simply see no alternative if we are to be the Sikhs the Gurus clearly expect us to be.
     
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  5. BhagatSingh

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    Navdeep ji,
    Bibi Bhani
    Mata Gujri
    Bibi Naneki
    Mata Sahib Kaur
    Mata Khivi
    Sada Kaur
    come to mind other than Mai Bhago and Rani Jindan.
     
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    #4 BhagatSingh, Nov 20, 2011
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  6. Navdeep88

    Navdeep88 Canada
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    Kanwaljit Singh Ji,

    I like what you've said about your mom, I would probably describe my mom in the same way. And I do agree with most of what you say but here's my issue: the roles of women are changing, especially in the west. Women have to work outside of the household, they are expected to. We dont have the luxury of just one role anymore: that of getting married, staying home and raising children. So if we have to take up this responsibility, if we have to put ourselves out there, maybe men need to realise that things are changing and it is as much on them to support us, as they expect us to support them. This change has significance, and it needs to be acknowledged. I'm not saying that women don't need men or vice versa, but I think most women these days do have some independent identity, have dreams, things to accomplish... and they want support, guidance etc. in carrying that out from the men in their lives.
     
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  7. Navdeep88

    Navdeep88 Canada
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  8. BhagatSingh

    BhagatSingh Canada
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    They are almost all men over on that forum Navdeep ji.

    Also I have contemplated these things for a while now. Here are my thoughts.

    1. a) Women tend to work in the background like the quote "Behind every great man there is a great woman." The role of nurturing and raising children is perhaps the most important. They would manage the house in which the men dwell.
    ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ ॥
    सो किउ मंदा आखीऐ जितु जमहि राजान ॥
    So ki▫o manḏā ākẖī▫ai jiṯ jamėh rājān.
    So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.

    It goes much deeper still.

    1. b) Women over millions of years of evolution have mated with men who were leaders and influential in their small tribes (kings). They have selected qualities in men that are apparent in the famous Sikh men of our history. Strong, dominant, brave, decisive, in control, protective of tribe, taking the lead <-- These qualities fit almost all men on that list. This hasn't changed, women are still attracted to men that display those qualities. The roles maybe changing but human psychology remains the same. In some areas, roles cannot change. Men can neither give birth to children nor feed them milk.

    (The above also explains the Sikh Rehit Maryada. It's not sexist, it is simply an understanding of psychology and how society naturaly functions.)

    2. Those without the qualities mentioned above tend to be forgotten as they are not in the front lines (those in front lines lead and they have a greater chance of becoming famous). Those who are going to lead will be remembered. This is why Mai Bhago is really famous. For example, you know Banda Singh Bahadur but do you know anyone else in his army? You know Banda Singh Bahadur but do you know his mom, who raised him?

    3. And finally, as a society we seem to value the above mentioned qualities more than others because the famous figures of the history tend to possess them. In reality, these qualities are no more important than any other quality.
     
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    #7 BhagatSingh, Nov 21, 2011
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  9. Naamsimiran

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    Sat Nam:happykudi:
    The representation of South Asian women, especially Sikh women, has been something that I have been obsessed with since I was 9 years of age, even younger in fact. I have questioned, debated, argued, thought and provoked conversation about how women are represented, if they are represented and how can we improve their representation. In 2008, I was given the opportunity to explore some of my ideas through an Art Residency at Contact Theatre and now in 2011, I have been awarded studentship to investigate my ideas further through a MA Research Degree.
     
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  10. Naamsimiran

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    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ke Fatheh.
    The title of my MA is: The under-representation of women in Sikh visual culture. This is my starting point. I am sure it will unfold, shift and change as I explore and find out new things. Growing up as a young Sikh girl, I always noticed that in the Gudwaras and at the homes of my Sikh friends and relatives, that women rarely or never were depicted in pictures of Sikhism or in the history of Sikhism. Although things are in fact changing, I want to research herstory and give a visual presence to the females of Sikhism and those powerful Sikh women today. I want to, by God grace, give Sikh women a voice. You can follow my research at : http://sabbikaur.tumblr.com/
     
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  11. Ambarsaria

    Ambarsaria Canada
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    Just some observations if these add to the discourse.

    Bhain ji I just share my understanding from many years back. I used to bike past a school on GT Road in Amritsar going towards Khalsa College Amritsar. There was a school and such school trained future Kirtananiaen. I was told that much emphasis was placed in giving opportunity to people from so called lower classes and including some with handicaps like being blind. Much through the land the man had traditionally assumed or was assigned or expected to be performing the role of bread winner for the family. So when I see a person doing Kirtan, specially originating from India, I see it as a job of winning bread for the family. Kirtan is a job too for such people.

    As times change and women get more recognized, rightfully at times, the main bread winner, I am sure the society including Sikhs will change or be left behind. I believe it is OK to blame Punjabi culture, I challenge people to show how it is markedly different in Western culture. It for sure is not as bad by a large measure, but rarely have I seen cases of men getting child support payments or custody and even in joint custody rarely is monetary award to a man.

    Things are changing for the better and I believe it is important also to note some such observations.

    Bhain ji I agree 110% with you on the above. I read it the same way and I kept my comments inside though quite perturbed to read it. Much needs to be reviewed in SRM.

    Veer ji thanks for your post. I am much familiar with Gurbani line you quoted as my father provided written testimony along those lines when a man tried to somehow show a court in divorce and custody proceedings that only a Sikh man is capable of raising a son. The judge sided with the mother and thoroughly rebuked the father.

    However, equally your general post and Navdeep88 ji's post (Re: Few females in most admired thread) raise interesting point. How many times a man has been identified in public to have raised a good son or daughter? I know of very few to none. Are men that oblivious in the raising of children? I don't know but I just again pose it for scratching our heads, as I sure am!

    I don't want to generalize but, I will suggest that men and women in Sikhi, and in Punjabi culture, are no different than men and women in any other religion in India if not in most other religions and places in the world. It may be overt in some places and hidden in others.

    Sat Sri Akal.
     
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    #10 Ambarsaria, Nov 21, 2011
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  12. Naamsimiran

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    Sat Nam Ji.

    It is funny that Banda Singh Bahadur was mentioned, as I near to finished an image of his wife, Susheel Kaur and the reason being is that, yes we need to see, hear and learn about the women of Sikhi. Banda Singh Bahadur's wife also went through the loss of her son and also did not give up her faith.

    My humble response:

    1. However the issues is not that women are or were in the background, they are depicted/portrayed in the background. There is a very interesting book called relocating gender in Sikh history: Transformation, meaning and identity by Doris R. Jakokbsh.

    Jakokbsh writes how a lot of historians were men and in India, men were the literate ones, so usually wrote from a male perspective. (See Jakokbsh's intro).

    As we now are in the 21st century, it is now important to look at Sikh women from a more holistic perspective. This can be done by also looking at the movement of Sikh men and women, the Imperialist structures, what happen during the British Raj, Patriarchal systems and migration. Sikh men and women had many things that affected them.

    2. Not all cultures or situations have men as leaders. There are in fact tribes were women and the dominant gender, possess courage, strength. In the African Aka tribe, the women go and hunt, while the men tend to the babies. There is a great article in the Guardian about this tribe:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2005/jun/15/childrensservices.familyandrelationships

    There are other reasons too. But you can find this out by following my research:happykudi:
    WJKK WJKF
     
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  13. Ambarsaria

    Ambarsaria Canada
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    Sarbji Kaur ji one thing I want to flag if it helps in your research.

    Lot of Punjabi culture is very much an amalgam of Afghani, Persian and Indo_Aryan based. Cosider the example of Madrassas in Pakistan, the Taliban banning the education of women, etc. The hiding of faces in Burka, it sure is going to restrict you from doing certain jobs. In spite of all these temptations of male dominance in overt societal institutions and structures, Sikhism has by and large saved itself from in a way falling back into dark ages. Is it perfect, absolutely not. But just some thoughts.

    Sat Sri Akal.
     
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  14. Navdeep88

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    NaamSimran Ji,

    cant wait to see the results of your research! Just acknowledging, naming, telling the stories of Sikh women could make a dent in the Punjabi psyche... which I think desperately needs it, Ive had several aunts abort female fetus's and idk... one who aborted several times now has a son with down syndrome, and the other, who was otherwise a lovely caring person and maybe she did it out of pressure from family... she actually passed away after a year of battling brain cancer.

    we need to stop killing, stomping on and abusing girls. since Gurbani is the beacon of light on this issue as well, I think focusing on Historiography and perhaps telling a slightly different story (one that includes a little more acknowledgment of the women who raised, stood by and equally endured all that the influential figures did) could have a very real effect.
     
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  15. Navdeep88

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    Mai Ji,
    I agree with what you have written. But I have a question about the above... Im sure there's loads and loads of research on it but I'd like to hear from you, why do you think the above happens? Why do some men do this and feel its totally ok?
     
  16. Harry Haller

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    This has nothing to do with Sikhism and everything to do with society. Womens role in society is changing daily, gone are the defined roles with the woman as housekeeper and child rearer, and the man as bread winner and leader. Although some religions actively encourage this, the Abrahamic religions are extremely male orientated, with Christianity likening a marriage to the husband being Christ and the wife being the congregation.

    I have watched young girls get assimilated into families, watching it is quite depressing, first they change the girls name, then they strip her off all personality, remind her how much dowry she brought, and then make every decision for her, I do remember one term that was used often, 'moulding', but the strange thing is that it was the older women within the family that were the worst in ensuring this regime continued, maybe it was to justify their own pain when they were young brides, maybe they did not see why the young bride should 'get away with it', but these are all social problems, not Sikhi problems, marriage is not often seen as an equal platform in many many societies, and the punjabi one is probably one of the worst.

    Men mistreat and beat their wives because they are bullies and cowards, some are less intelligent than their wives, and it should really be the wives that are making key decisions in the family, but rather than be shown up by a woman, it is easier to lash out like a playground bully, a lot of men have never grown up, I know, I am one, but whereas I have kept my childish sense of humour and mischief, some have no doubt kept their inability to lose face (even to your wife) and behave accordingly.

    I am not sure if the situation is getting better or worse, as I am in touch with a total of zero sikh families, so I cannot comment on the trend, however, for all the flak 3HO gets, it would appear they seem to have embraced the equality point a bit more than other sikhs, (based on my own observations, happy to be corrected)
     
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  17. Inderjeet Kaur

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    May I answer my thoughts on this matter?

    The men who do it, do it because they can. I think part of it is human nature and part of it is testosterone. Machismo does, in a hormonal way, have a biological basis. Of course, culture and experience also play a part. Most men, I hope, have evolved enough that they can and do control the urge to physically assault those whom they see as helpless against them. There will always be some who do get violent with those they think are easy targets.

    The obvious solution is to teach our women and girls to defend themselves and to also teach them that it is good to defend themselves. In most cases this will be enough to stop the bully. I advocate this, not only so they can defend themselves against our men, but also they can defend themselves against anyone who might attack them. Sant/sipahi applies to the lioness as well as the lion.

    I am, of course, oversimplifying. The whole subject is complicated and difficult. This is where I'd start, though.
     
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  18. Ambarsaria

    Ambarsaria Canada
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    #17 Ambarsaria, Nov 21, 2011
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  19. Naamsimiran

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    Sat Naam Jis

    Thanks for all your post. There is a lot of research done and its important in fact to look at the research. It is good to discuss, but also helps if we deal with facts, valid observations and theory too. The reason being is that we can have many ideas and thoughts about why things happen, but when we start looking at why exactly things happen, including social issues, we can then find solutions.

    I am at the beginning of my research and the questions as well as answers lie in many factors, including Patriarchal systems, Capitalism, Imperialistic structure, Psychology and social psychological behavior to name a few.

    It is a much-layered subject and yes it is complicated as as human-beings we are mulch-layered and complicated.

    I suppose at this stage, in my naivety I can offer some observations and ideas.
    1. Patriarchy systems hold men as the primary figures in society. This has affected many culture and societies across the globe.

    2. Men don't abuse women, because of testosterone. Testosterone is a chemical and some women are in fact born with a lot of testosterone, but this does not make them abusive. Abuse can stem from many factors, some of which come from the collective society believing and following a Patriarchal system. There are also issues like that of the Ego, dominance, because they want to, fear and other psychological factors and sometimes imbalances.

    3. Women are also abusive, verbally and mentally. Again some of the reasons are the same as above.

    4. Other systems and structures in history have been designed to put women at the bottom of the ladder, this includes other religions and cultures
    . As people sometimes do not question religion/culture, their psyche individually and collectively believe that the design and beliefs are true. When in fact a large majority are not.

    5. Sikhism is a young religion and was very forward thinking for its time. However South Asian culture is still steeped in superstition, old beliefs and inequality. Yes babies are still being aborted. The death toll is high and that is another reason why I am doing this work. South Asian culture has not yet caught up with the idea that women are valuable.

    6. The inequality of women is prevalent in many cultures, but some cultures have had movements, like here is the UK, to gain and promote the rights of women. This needs to be done more in South Asian cultures and religions, including Sikh Punjabi culture.

    7. Yes Punjabi culture is made up of
    Afghani, Persian and Indo_Aryan and some beliefs have still stuck and filtered done into the minds, consciousness and culture. Thank you for the references (be good to get some links on the matter). So if we look at the history of Punjab, and Globally the systems of Patriarchy we can start painting a picture as to why things are like they are.

    There are other factors too which I will discuss another time.

    With this understanding we realise there are many issues that have affected the mind set of individuals and collective consciousness. Now it is time to present and practice equality and educate people to slowly change and develop their consciousness. The results may not even be clear in our lifetime, but need to be worked towards all the same.

    A more equal society, globally is possible.
    Sat Nam everyone. Peace and Harmony.
     
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  20. Ambarsaria

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    Sarbji Bhain ji the following pictorial of vastness of Punjab and it will on further inspection will show intermingling and intertwining of traditions, beliefs, etc.

    [​IMG]

    This is from the following which has other cultural references,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punjabi_culture

    You may also want to consider that there is tremendous traditions of seeing Punjabi women as beautiful, etc., in imagery and poetry and even in Gurbani many a times there is reference to the creator as male while the follower or student is female. Whether it translates in people's minds to duality or stature should be considered. My gut feeling is it translates into females below males generically but this is not scientific.

    Sat Sri Akal.
     
  21. Kanwaljit Singh

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    I was thinking how we always show the man driving a bicycle and woman sitting behind him, with the place where she's sitting not an actual seat and of course lower in height. Is this a symbol of the undercurrent discrimination? Can't say.

    So what can be the Take Away from this topic? I think we should enumerate how and what all we can do to empower female population in Sikhi.
     
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