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A Sikh perspective on Gender

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Religion is gender-free

The Sikh faith and all the practices are completely gender-free. Men have a physical form different from women determined by nature. Everything else, such as practices and beliefs, are the same for both.

 

The Sikh scriptures are composed as if we are all the female soul brides and God is the male unto which we are all wedded.

 

There is one mother who is married to the universe and she has three disciples, one is he who gives birth, one is he who maintains and one is he who lives beyond death.                                                                                               (Sggs Japji)

 

It is a strange but very empowering concept within the tradition. All Sikh ceremonial roles can be fulfilled by either sex. The Siri Guru Granth Sahib is the word and when it is read or sung, the essence of the shabad (the word of the Guru) resounds as the female sound current or the naad (unstruck melody) will carry man over the ocean of life.

 

Guru Nanak gave great importance to women and his actions prove that he was very clear about the role of women in society. The Guru took bold steps against emperors and state rulers against the taboos prevalent in the times when women were denied their status.[1]

 

In faith, in practice

In reality, although the Gurus, the Sikh teachings and history clearly portray the role of women in the Sikh faith, there is a different practice on the ground.

 

In 2004 there was a controversial and political rebellion that took place in the Harminder Sahib in Amritsar, otherwise known as the Golden Temple. Everywhere in the world and in all Sikh places of worship women have equal rights, but in Amritsar they are not allowed to sing or fulfil any of the duties inside the main sacred sanctum. The reason? I am not sure that there is one other than when the duties were first performed, men performed them. The controversy hit its peak when a few young Sikh women from the West, who were visiting Amritsar, asked to perform one of the tasks usually done by men. When they were shooed away and not given an appropriate reason as to why they were not allowed to fulfil these duties, the press and media covered the story.

 

It just happened that one of the women in question was a lawyer and she decided to take up a legal, political and emotional battle with the steering committee. She discovered and brought to light the fact that this issue of performing duties had been raised earlier by some American Sikh women back in 1999. As a result the head of the Akal Thakat passed a law highlighting that it was imperative that women be granted all the rights as stated by the Gurus.

 

 

Unfortunately this never came into effect, however, and still has not, due to political and social instability in the Punjab's leadership. There is incredible irony with this as Mother India, as many remember it, was run by a woman for over a decade, yet here it is a question of whether a woman can handle the stress and strain of conducting a simple ceremony.

 

It was different in the past

It is clear from the above that we still live in a slavery of cultural stereotypes and the male ego. Is it because man is scared? Exploitation by, and discrimination in favour of, the male are so prevalent despite what the Gurus have said and done. In history, women served and were blessed by the Guru, they were sent as missionaries by Guru Amardas ji and the tenth Nanak Guru Gobind Singh made it a point to show the role of a woman in the initiation ceremony of the Khalsa by asking her to add the sweetness to the ambrosial nectar that all would drink from.

 

The strength of man and the humility of a woman is the ultimate combination for survival in the universe. One cannot do without the other. When man and woman are in complete harmony, they create. Is this not what we believe is God himself?

Who then can dare to take this away or suggest weak arguments to deny the world today what the law of nature has already decided?



[1] See essay on women for references to women's equality in Sikhi

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