Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
Sat Nam Readers!
Today’s post will deal with Sikhi and women generally. Future posts will deal with specific women like Mata Tripta Ji, Bebe Nanaki Ji, Mata Khivi, Mai Bhago, Rani Sada Kaur, Maharani Jind Kaur and so many others, including modern Kaurs like Valarie Kaur, Harnaam Kaur, and Amrita Pritam. Future posts will also deal with the challenges that have faced Sikh women as a result of differences between what our Gurus teach us about equality and the actual practice. Issues such as forced marriage, education inequality, gender inequality, and so called ‘honour’ killing will be topics of future posts.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Guru of our faith, lived in a time when women were far from the equals of men. They were, for the most part, the property of men – their fathers and brothers and then their husbands. Terrible traditions were imposed on them because they were seen as lesser, as ‘merely’ women with little power or status to change their state. Guru Nanak recognized that this treatment caused great suffering and he did not understand it. He recognized that all creatures are the creatures of God, and said that to distinguish between them is sin. Men and women have the same soul inside of them. He also felt that men and women are insecure and incomplete in this life without a partner and that each owes their success in part to the love and support of the partner who shares their life.
He also, far ahead of his time, has said that women should neither be cursed nor condemned because through them, leaders and rulers are born.
Later Gurus would further the status of women as equals. They rejected the traditions of sutak and sati. (Sutak was the idea that a woman was ‘unclean’ after childbirth for a period of time that depended on her caste. Sati was the practice of a widow ‘voluntarily’ or involuntarily being thrown upon the funeral pyre of her husband.)
Guru Nanak Dev Ji and those that followed were well ahead of their time in their teachings on equality. The Gurus abolished, for the Sikhs, many traditions which subjugated women including caste, sutak, sati and veils and taught stridently that we are the equals of one another.
All Sikhs believe in the equality of women, handed down to us from the time of Guru Nanak. Sikh women can be Granthi (reading from Sir Guru Granth Sahib), they may lead congregations, they may participate equally in religious, social, cultural and secular activities, they participate in Akhand Path (the continuous reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji in the space of 48 hours), and perform Kirtan (singing in a congregation). They have served as commanders in times of battle and have fought alongside their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers when needed.
Equality extends to our marriages. In Sikh marriage, fidelity is enjoined on both the husband and wife, who are to be treated as equal partners. A Sikh marriage is monogamous. Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave the name of Singh (“lion”) to men and the name Kaur (“princess”) to women. Very often, these are used as our surnames. Sikh women rarely adopt their husband’s name on marriage, therefore, and retain the name Kaur, befitting our faith, though this tradition appears to be changing for some.
Equality also extends to the treatment of all women, whether they be the enemy or not. Sikh men are to treat the women of other families as their own mothers, sisters and daughters. In fact, it is said that when the Sikhs defeated Jahan Khan at Sialkot in 1763, and a number of women came to be prisoners of war in the hands of the Sikhs, the Sikhs did not lay a hand on the women, but rather had them escorted safely to Jammu.
Honour killing of daughters and female infanticide (topics to be covered in more depth in later posts) are also not permitted among Sikhs. In fact, the Reyhat Marayada (a code of conduct for Sikhs) tells us quite explicitly that we are to turn our backs on any man who has killed his daughter. It is extremely rare that a Sikh would be cast away from his community so it says a great deal about how Sikhs view women that for this crime, the result is quite clear and is applied by the entire community.
Of course, all human beings are imperfect, and what is taught to us is not always effectively and completely put into practice. For this reason, future posts will deal with some of the challenges that we have faced as a faith and a peole, in applying the teachings of our Gurus.
The equal treatment and equal status of all human beings is a gift granted us by our Gurus, the way of Waheguru and one thing among so many which makes me grateful to be Sikh.
Sat Nam readers!