• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

Gurbani – A Sikh Solution To Female Feticide


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Gurbani – A Sikh Solution to Female Feticide

September 3, 2009
by Reema

It might partly be the scarcity of female voices and public female faces in the Sikh community that makes Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh’s so distinctive and refreshing. But in addition to her position as one of the few public female voices in the Sikh community, her original and creative work is really what makes Ms. Kaur-Singh so refreshing. As we have discussed in the past, in the context of “Relocating Gender in Sikh History,” the vast majority of Sikh history has been written by men. And thus, despite their best intentions, for the most part, women’s voice in Sikh history has been non-existent. It is silent.

In this realm of mostly male voices, Ms. Kaur-Singh has taken an original position on a much-needed project: to explore a feminist perspective in interpreting Gurbani. Many translations of Gurbani have been written, some of which are quite good, and others that are quite lacking (in terms of staying close to the feeling of the original shabad and being easily understandable for today’s audiences). One of the most popular translations today, if not the most popular, is Sikhi to the Max. It’s heavily used in gurdwaras, at weddings, and by individuals at home. And in this translation, the divine is interpreted as He/Him/Lord. Not only is this archaic, it creates a framework of masculinity that limits our understanding of the Waheguru. The Sikh conception of gender embraces as well as goes beyond gender.

In a piece we discovered recently, Ms. Kaur-Singh contrasts current practices of sex-selection and sex-selective abortion with the place of the feminine within Gurbani. In a chapter of “Imagining the Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture,” Ms. Kaur Singh orients readers with the history of sex-selection in Punjab. She then goes on to show how Gurbani holds the power to turn today’s practices on their head. In a few short pages, we are treated to a celebration of the feminine, reminded that our spirituality can focus on our source (the physical allegory of which is the mother) rather than its current infatuation with the end, and given a gender-neutral interpretation of excerpts of Gurbani which resonate as closer to a truer meaning than some other more widely used interpretations today.

Historical layers
Historically, sons have been important in South Asian culture, and phrases such as “May you be the mother of a hundred sons!” were common blessings. (p. 121) Historical coincidences of Mughal and British rule reinforced such patriarchal notions. Mughals introduced purdah while the caste system subjugated women to their husbands and considered them a source of pollution. It was against this background that the Gurus wrote their bani. Later, the current of masculinization continued as the British contributed Victorian morals and theorized a martial race into Punjab’s cultural fabric, glamorizing a hyper-masculine ideal. And finally, the Green Revolution relegated women to non-economic domestic work, where before they had worked in the fields and contributed to the family income. This historical process has left many practicing Sikhs content to leave the revolutionary feminism of the Gurus’ bani on the Guru’s pages, instead of bringing it alive for our entire community. Ms. Kaur-Singh’s work, for me, helps to bring alive the Guru’s revolution.
“In spite of its centrality in Sikh life, the feminist import of Sikh scripture has not been recognized, and as a result the literary symbols and social reality of the community exist in opposition. The vital poetic images revered on the Punjabi soil need to be concretized in Punjabi habits and customs. We must explore Sikh literature and utilize its fetal imagery to end gender-specific feticides.” (p. 124)
Imagery in the Guru Granth Sahib
“Female Feticide in Punjab and Fetus Imagery in Sikhism” highlights imagery of the womb and the feminine in Gurbani. Where Indian literature considered a menstruating woman polluted, Guru Nanak rejected this idea, writing “How can we call her polluted from whom the great ones are born?” The Guru Granth is replete with images of the womb, in various contexts. It is celebrated as the matrix for all life and living. “[T]he womb becomes a vital space for the Divine, and the fetus functions as a symbol for cultivating Sikh morality, spirituality, and aesthetics…affirm[ing] the category of birth that feminist theologians, philosophers, and psychologists find so critical.” (p. 124-5)

Embracing the source

The focus on the fetus “reinforces the generative power of the mother. She is the maternal continuum, one who retrieves the primacy of birth over death, and reaffirms the union of body and mind.” In this way, Sikh scripture highlights our source instead of having a narrow focus on the where the end of life leads. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji states, “[Y]ou yourself are born of the egg, from the womb, from sweat, from earth: you yourself are all the continents and all the worlds.” (p.127) Thus, the Guru Granth celebrates both our physical as well as metaphysical source.
This focus on our source is often lost in today’s conversations regarding Gurbani, which often focus on our present, future, or political past. Our source, where we come from, is integral to our identity- it is where our roots come from and informs much of who we are today. Ms. Kaur-Singh’s revival of it is a much-needed and powerful message. By highlighting how the Gurus celebrated motherhood and revered women as the source of creation, she celebrates the feminine and re-orients readers to our source.

Some Concluding Thoughts
In some way this is what differentiates Ms. Kaur-Singh’s work from all other works by academics on Sikhi. While others use sociological or historical methodologies, Ms. Kaur-Singh uses Gurbani as her prism into understanding Sikh theology and history. It is the work of a ‘lover of Gurbani’ and the Guru’s message that drives her activism and research – calling for Sikhs to explore the Guru’s gift of Gurbani – to learn lessons from their past, draw inspiration in their present, and find solutions for their future.


Mar 12, 2009

Points of impact;

1. Social.
2. Economic.
3. Population decline.
4. Spiritual decline/ignorance.
5. Gender inequality in worshiping at Gurudwaras.

The basic underlying factor in female infanticide/inequality is the individual male EGO, spiritual ignorance as well as socio-economic factors.
If the spiritual ignorance is removed by respecting the female gender as Sikh Gurus tried to teach the humanity about it. Guru Nanak in Asa Di Var elucidates;

ਭੰਡਿ ਜੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਨਿੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਮੰਗਣੁ ਵੀਆਹੁ ॥ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਦੋਸਤੀ ਭੰਡਹੁ ਚਲੈ ਰਾਹੁ ॥ਭੰਡੁ ਮੁਆ ਭੰਡੁ ਭਾਲੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਬੰਧਾਨੁ ॥ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ ॥ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੀ ਭੰਡੁ ਊਪਜੈ ਭੰਡੈ ਬਾਝੁ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥ਨਾਨਕ ਭੰਡੈ ਬਾਹਰਾ ਏਕੋ ਸਚਾ ਸੋਇ ॥

Bẖand jammī­ai bẖand nimmī­ai bẖand mangaṇ vī­āhu.Bẖandahu hovai ḏosṯī bẖandahu cẖalai rāhu.Bẖand mu­ā bẖand bẖālī­ai bẖand hovai banḏẖān.So ki­o manḏā ākẖī­ai jiṯ jameh rājān.Bẖandahu hī bẖand ūpjai bẖandai bājẖ na ko­ė.Nānak bẖandai bāhrā ėko sacẖā so­ė.

From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. O, Nanak, only the True Akal Purkh is without a woman.-----Guru Nanak, Raag Asa, AGGS, Page, 473

It is the ego, which by its veil separates the self from Truth/Universal Self. Ego/Houmai is an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others with a psyche that is conscious and most immediately controls thought and behavior being in touch with external reality. It is an exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit. There is only one indirect reference in AGGS with admonishment to Brahmins following Vedas/Vedanta for such sacrifices for the sake of Ego.

ਬ੍ਰਹਮਣ ਕੈਲੀ ਘਾਤੁ ਕੰਞਕਾ ਅਣਚਾਰੀ ਕਾ ਧਾਨੁ ॥ਫਿਟਕ ਫਿਟਕਾ ਕੋੜੁ ਬਦੀਆ ਸਦਾ ਸਦਾ ਅਭਿਮਾਨੁ ॥

Barahmaṇ kailī gẖāṯ kañkā aṇcẖārī kā ḏẖān.Fitak fitkā koṛ baḏī­ā saḏā saḏā abẖimān.

If a Brahmin kills a cow or a female infant, and accepts the offerings of an evil person, he is cursed with the leprosy of curses and criticism; he is forever and ever filled with egotistical pride.-----Guru Amardas, Sloke Vaaran Tay Vadheek, AGGS, Page, 1413-4 & 5

Pride is the basic breeder of most human difficulties, the chief block to progress. When the satisfaction of our lower instincts, security and a place in society becomes the primary object of our lives, than pride steps in to justify our excesses. Fullness of knowledge always and necessarily means some understanding of our ignorance that is always conducive to both humility and reverence. Plenty of people wish to become devout but no one wishes to be humble.

ਇਕਨਾ ਨੋ ਸਭ ਸੋਝੀ ਆਈ ਇਕਿ ਫਿਰਦੇ ਵੇਪਰਵਾਹਾ ॥ਅਮਲ ਜਿ ਕੀਤਿਆ ਦੁਨੀ ਵਿਚਿ ਸੇ ਦਰਗਹ ਓਗਾਹਾ ॥

Iknā no sabẖ sojẖī ā­ī ik firḏė vėparvāhā.Amal je kīṯi­ā ḏunī vicẖ sė ḏargeh ohāgā.

Some understand this completely, while others wander around carelessly. Those actions, which are done in this world, shall be examined in the Court of the God.-----Sloke Sheikh Farid, 98, AGGS, Page, 1383-3

Spiritual ignorance is a very serious matter. It is said that "What you don't know won't hurt you". We all know that is incorrect and yet it seems that many people have adopted that philosophy toward spiritual matters. "Many people are destroyed for lack of spiritual knowledge". It is not merely the lack of knowledge, but self-destructive turning away from truth in all areas of life and to be ignorant of one's ignorance is the malady of the ignorant. It is the shore less ocean of darkness. It further leads to attachment with Maya.

ਅਸੰਖ ਮੂਰਖ ਅੰਧ ਘੋਰ ॥

Asankh Moorkh Andh Ghor.

Countless fools are blinded by ignorance.-----Japji, AGGS, Page, 4-3

Ignorance is the absence of the divine knowledge of perception which gives us the sight of the supramental Truth; it is the non-perceiving principle on our consciousness as opposed to the truth-perceiving conscious vision and knowledge. Ignorance is a self-limiting Knowledge confined to an exclusive concentration of in a single field. The Ignorance, though in Matter and Life, has its primacy in the nature of the Mind, which measures, limits, particularizes, and divides. But Mind also is a universal principle, of the “Supreme” with the tendency to unify and universalize. Mind becomes ignorant when it loses connection with the Absolute Principle. Individuals worshiping departed heroes, ancestors, etc is of no avail and is in utter spiritual ignorance.


Spiritual ignorance is the origin and nature of error, falsehood, wrong and evil in the consciousness and will of the individual; a limited consciousness growing out of the nescience is the source of the error, a personal attachment to the limitation and the error born of it the source of the falsity, a wrong consciousness governed by the life-ego the source of evil. The spiritual ignorance referred here is not lack of information but a deep seated misperception of reality. The same is true about not accepting the females equal to man against the principles of AGGS. Divine Knowledge is the awareness and understanding of facts, truths or information gained in the form of learning. The purpose of Divine knowledge is to find the Truth and develop inner cleanliness by subjugating animal instincts and developing godly instincts or virtues by respecting human life and spiritual progress.

Virinder S. Grewal

❤️ Tap / Click or Scan


Latest Activity