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"Sikhism and Women" by Jatinder Singh


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This page was last updated on June 6th 1999.





Featured Article

1. Is God considered male or female?

Guru Granth Sahib (G.G.S.) contains many names for God, both masculine and feminine. These are all used to describe God. Ultimately, the Gurus do not consider God to be male or female. The Mul Mantra states that God is Ajuni (Unborn), in other words, God belongs to neither sex

2. What does Guru Granth Sahib say about women?

Guru Nanak dismissed the prevailing values that downgraded women. He says: 'It is through woman that order is maintained. Then why call her inferior from whpm all great ones are born.' G.G.S.,p.473

The Gurus use woman symbolically in the bani to represent the disciple. Bhai Gurdas, the scribe of G.G.S., says, "Of all the Vedas' knowledge and all other virtues, it is the woman who can best guide man to the gates of salvation."

3. What rights do I have as a Sikh woman?

A Sikh woman has equal rights to a Sikh man. Unlike Christianity, no post in Sikhism is reserved solely for men. Unlike Islam, a woman is not considered subordinate to a man. Sikh baptism (amrit) is open to both sexes. The Khalsa nation is made up equally of men and women. A Sikh woman has the right to become a granthi, a ragi, one of the panj pyaras (five beloved), etc.

4. Are there any restrictions on what I can wear?

When Sikhs take amrit they must all, regardless of sex, keep the 5 K's. Guru Nanak says that one should only wear clothes which do not distress the mind or body.

'Friend, all other wear ruins bliss, The wear that to the limbs is torment, and with foul thinking fill the mind.' G.G.S., p. 16

The Gurus were against the wearing of the veil, which is so popular amongst Muslims and Hindus. Even Christian nuns are made to cover themselves more than Christian priests. Guru Amar Das refused to allow a Hindustani Queen from entering the sangat unless she removed her veil. In Guru Granth Sahib, the veil is compared to suppression.

'False modesty that suppressed is ended. Now, with veil cast off, am I started on the way of devotion.' G.G.S., p. 931

5. Can I read Guru Grarsth Sahib?

Yes. The reading of Guru Granth Sahib, is open to all. In Hinduism, a woman is not considered capable of reading the Vedas in a mandir. Guru Amar Das got attracted to of Sikhism after hearing Bibi Amro reciting bani.

6. Can I be forced into an arranged marriage7

Sikhs are forbidden to marrying off their children without their prior consent. Both sons and daughters are required to reach a mature age, both physically and mentally, before they marry. Thus, parents must ensure that their children are allowed to grow and be educated to the fullest. Arranged marriages are the norm for Sikhs. Sikhs are forbidden from marrying outside their faith and are not allowed to keep sexual relationships outside of marriage. The Gurus considered marriage an equal partnership. Guru Amar Das states:

'They are not said to be husband and wife who merely sit together, Rather they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies.' G.G.S., p. 788.

This is in contrast to other faiths. In Islam the husband is permanently the dominant partner.

'If your wives are overbeanng, advise them against it. If they do not care, refuse them sexual intercorse. If they still persist, then give them a thrashing.' Holy Quran, Ulnissa 434.

7. What about dowry?

Sikhs are forbidden from marrying off their children for monetary benefit. Concerning dowry, Guru Ram Das states:

'Any other dowry, which the perverse place for show, that is false pride and worthless gidding.' G.G.S.,p.79

8. Who is considered more spiritual ~ man or woman?

Unlike other faiths, Sikhism states that both man and womxn are capable of reaching the highest levels of spirituality. A particular hymn in Guru Granth Sahib states:

'In all beings is He Himself pervasive, Himself pervades all forms, male or female.' G.G.S., p. 605

9. Why is the birth of a boy more welcome than that of a girl?

If this is the case, it is totally against the teaching of Sikhism. The birth of a girl or boy should be equally joyous for Sikhs. The practice of giving sweets and celebrating Lohri only on the birth of a boy is anti-Sikh behaviour. Female foeticide is condemned in the Sikh Code of Conduct. There are clear instructions that one who kills female infants, has no place in Sikh society, and has to be excommunicated.

10. What about my independence?

No Sikh is taught to be subservient to anyone else. Thus, independence is open to both sexes. Every Sikh is able to attain spirituality independently, as there is no priestly dass in Sikhism. The path of love which Guru Nanak initiated is open to all.

'Shouldst thou seek to engage in the game of love, Step into my street with thy head placed on thy palm, While onto this stepping, ungrudgingly sacrifice your head.' G.G.S., p. 1412

The Khalsa nation is open to men and women alike. Guru Nanak observed how defenceless women had been when Babar, the first Mughal Emperor of Hindustan, invaded Punjab:

'Babar with wedding party of Sin from Kabul rushed down, and forcibly demanded surrender of Indian womanhood'

'Set aside were KaSs and Brahmins, and Satan went about solemnizing marriages. Muslim women, reciting the Quran, in their affliction called on Muda. Other women of lower castes and of the Hindus in this suffering too include in your account. Saith Nanak: Sung are paeans of blood and sprinkled is blood for saffron'. G.G.S., p. 722

The Gurus ensured that such an event will never occur again. They made a nation of soldiers capable of defending themselves as well as others. Thus, ensuring they need not depend on anyone.

11. Asian women in general are subservient to their husbands. What is the Siki view-point?

Hinduism does state that women are under the control of men. The laws of Manu state: 'In childhood, a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead, to her sons; a woman must never be independent.' Law 148, Chapter V.

Sikhism is totally opposed to this view. Christian women must change their names after marria&. The concept of maiden and married names is alien to Sikh philosophy. Sikhs practising it now do so out of ignorance. A Sikh woman is born with the surname Kaur and dies with it. Thus, allowing her to keep her identity throughout life.

12. Are there any famous Sikh women in history?

Sikh history is one which has been made by both men and women. There are many, many outstanding Sikh women. The Gurus' wives led highly spiritual and independent lives. Mata Sundri led the Sikhs for a long period after Guru Gobind Singh's death. Sada Kaur was a famous Sikh General who led the Khalsa army along side Ranjit Singh. The list of important Sikh women is endless.



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