ROLE OF SIKH WOMEN IN THE 21ST CENTURY
In February two Sikh women from UK Bibi Menjindar Kaur and Lakhveer Kaur brought the attention of the Sikh nation to the discrimination vetted out to the Sikh women in Sri Harmandar Sahib. They are treated as inferior to men and are not allowed to touch the Palki Sahib, Perform Shabad Keertan or even sit on the side of the Ragis behind them. The cleaning service inside the sanctum sanctorum was performed in 1996 but it has remained only as a token. The right to complete equality was bestowed on Sikh women by our first and the founder Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji as far back as the 15th century. The Sikh Nari Manch UK congratulates these Sikh women who today are demanding back their equal rights to perform every type of Seva in Sri Harmandar Sahib JI, gives its full support to them and prays for that time when those rights given to us by our Guru Ji are restored to us.
Today the Sikhi is not limited to Punjab only but the Sikhs live in all corners of the world and it is an international Qaum. When the women in Punjab have not done anything about these rights, no wonder that women from western countries had to do something. Satguru be with these women and give them strength to carry on their protest until such time that these rights are restored.
In the 21st century, when after 2000 years of Christianity, the Christian women have just been given the rights to preach in Anglican churches and are still struggling for their rights to preach in Catholic churches on British shores, the Sikh women who were blessed with these rights from the very beginning, we desperately need to urge the restoration and enforcement of these rights. It must be a complete reformation and not just the tokenism for show.
There should be committed and capable Ragi Jathas of women who can perform Shabad Keertan according to Maryada in ragas and should be willing to do regular seva and must be employed alongside the male Ragi Jathas by the Shromani Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee as Hazoori Jathas, only then will our rights have truly been restored to us and enforced. To be honest, this problem of equality of women is not only for the women, it is of the whole Sikh nation as it is a main principle of Sikhi. The Sikh women do not just face these discriminations in Sri Harmandar Sahib only; they face so many more discriminations in the Gurdwaras all over the world and no one seems to take any notice at all.
The Sikh Nari Manch UK will like to bring some of these discriminations to the forefront and ask the Sikh nation to think about and sort these out too.
1) When Guru Gobind SIngh Ji performed the first Amrit Sanchaar, he permitted Mata Jito Ji to add patasay (sugar bubbles) to the Amrit, in order for the Sikhs to retain their humility and sweetness alongside their infinite courage and bravery. Why this role has been taken away from Sikh women? Not only have the Sikh women been denied the right to be amongst the "Panj Pyare", their right to add the sweetness has also been taken away from them. Could this be the reason why our Amritdhari Singhs, who have overridden Guru Gobind Singh Ji's authority, have completely lost their humility, and have fallen to the lowest level by resorting to fighting in the precincts of Sri Harmandar Sahib recently, which was televised internationally?
2) At the time of initiation, all Sikh men and women are required partake of Amrit from the same vessel. Why is there then the discrepancy in Sri Harmandar Sahib, where women are not included when Parshad is distributed to "Panj Pyare"?
3) In many Gurdwaras, especially run by so called spiritual leaders, there is a huge discrimination where a married Sikh male will be "allowed' to partake Amrit (Khanday di Pauhl) however a married Sikh female is "forbidden" to do so unless she is accompanied by her husband.
4) If we take note of the tenets of Sikhism, the bigotry that exists in some of the Gurdwaras is appalling. In many Gurdwaras in UK (and many other countries) the women are "allowed" to cook, clean, wash dishes and do the laundry but are not allowed even to cast a shadow on the "Sach Khand" (sanctorum). Ironically those same women are given permission to do "Akhand Paths" in other halls of the same building in order to boost the coffers of the Gurdwara funds! Why this hypocrisy?
5) In many Gurdwaras women are allowed to do all types of seva but are not allowed to become "members" or cast their votes in selecting the management committee of the Gurdwara.
6) All calendars, diaries and jantries produced by the Sikh organisations lacked the names and dates of our Sikh heroines whilst they include the dates of irrelevant individuals. Now the Nankshahi Calendar has been introduced as a Sikh calendar from 14th of April this year but our leaders have forgotton the real philosophy of Sikhism. The equality of gender is the basic principle of Sikhism and it is a shame that the calendar is named after Guru Nanak Dev Ji who himself admonished the men folk by writing this Shabd in Asa di Var; SO KYON MUNDA AAKHEEYAI JIT JUNMEH RAAJAAN".
No wonder today's Sikh girls are openly saying that I do not want to marry a man with the turban as they are not given any Sikh female role models to look up to. Most of the photographs seen in the Sikh organisations/Gurdwaras are of male role models and none of the female role models are popularised either by photographs or by celebrating their days regularly.
The Sikh Nari Manch UK has written to Jathedar Sahib and has strongly recommended that following five names of the Sikh historical women must be included in the Nanakshahi Calendar.
1. Jagat Mata Mata Tripta Ji.
2. Mother of Khalsa Mata Sahib Kaur Ji.
3. The great mother of martyrs Mata Gujri Ji
4. The only women written about in any sacred religious book Mata Khivi Ji.
5. First Sikh woman General Mata Bhag Kaur Ji.
If the right dates for these women can not be found then different days should be fixed to celebrate their memorial days to give inspiration to younger generations. Even Guru Nanak Dev Jis Gurpurb is not celebrated on the day and date he was born.
The Sikh Nari Manch UK is the first Sikh organisation that has been working tirelessly to reunite Sikh women with their heritage for the past many years. It has been celebrating the days of prominent Sikh women since 1999. It requests and encourages other Gurdwaras to devote at least one day a year to celebrate and popularise Sikh female role models. It has researched and obtained the dates available from the Sikh literature and has been able to produce calendars with this information on our Sikh heroines. At least ten thousand calendars of Sikh heroines such as Mata Sahib Kaur Ji, Mata Tripta Ji and Mata Bhag Kaur are produced and distributed every year.
In the 18th century Mata Bhago Ji led the forty deserters back to Guru Gobind Singh Ji and in the 21st century the SNM is encouraging all Sikh women, mothers, daughters and sisters to take Mata Bhag Kaur Ji's example and bring the thousands of wayward Sikhs back to the Sikhi and Guru's fold.
To give the message of Sikhi on a wider level and to the host community the SNM takes part in multi-faith events. It has also distributed thousands of bilingual Gurbani posters such as, "Fundamental Prayer" (Mool Munter) and "Meal Times Prayer" to Sikh youth, families, prisons, hospitals and schools etc.
Today on international shores, all Sikhs should aim to eradicate those existing discriminatory practices, so that at least after 500 years, the Sikh women should have the real rights to do every type of Seva in all the Gurdwaras of the world. In the 21st century, prominent Sikh philosophers, Panchayats, leaders and women need to come together to think about the future of the Sikhs in order that the Sikh Panth can flourish. Today's Sikh nation is an international community and should therefore make decisions relevant to Sikhs with a mature approach that is deserving of our highly successful, articulate and international Sikh brotherhood. With Waheguru's blessings may the Sikh nation flourish and succeed to highest levels.
Gurdev Kaur Founder Sikh Nari Manch UK