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SAFAR Sikh Feminists To Hold Historic Toronto Meet


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
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by Sunil Rao

Tired of their "less than equal" status, Sikh women are gathering in Toronto this weekend to hold the first ever Sikh Feminist Conference.

The event, titled Safar (or Our Journeys), is being held Saturday, Oct 1, 8am-6.30pm, at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies In Education (at 252 Bloor St W; for details and to register visit www.sikhfeministresearch.org).

Focus contacted Sikh Feminist Research Institute's executive director Tarnjit Kaur Johal. Excerpts:

What is Safar looking for, and what do you hope the event will achieve?

When facing the present day reality, in both the Diaspora (in Canada, US, the UK, etc) and in Punjab, Sikh women, especially of Punjabi origin, continue to be treated as less than equal.

As data from StatsCan shows, sex ratios in areas of high Punjabi-Sikh Canadian populations are skewed; there is anecdotal evidence of honour killings; there's also violence against women, etc.

At Safar we want to reconnect with a feminism that pre-dates the western ideas of feminism. By connecting to our own historical narratives women can be empowered and face their daily realities from a position of power.

How will Safar do this?

Let me give you one example: One of the speakers at the conference, Deep Singh (from UCLA), is going to present a paper about a rarely discussed Sikh text, Param Marg Granth (also Prem Sumarg Granth). In this text, written in the early 1700s, women are given equal inheritance rights, widows are allowed to remarry, women are referred to as 'Khalsa Ji', just as GurSikh men... in every aspect of their existence women are considered equal to men. This contrasts so much with life in the 21st century!

How does Safar view men?Â

Funnily enough in the conference we are not looking at men per se. We recognize the origins of inequities due to gender, caste and class have complex causes; it is these structural causes we wish to explore, understand and begin to dismantle.

What is the scope of this event?

We are expecting 31 presenters from the US, Canada and the UK, many from Ivy League universities, scholars who are leaders in their fields and community activists. Safar has attracted wide community interest, with the range of participants likey to embrace every facet of society today.




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