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Guruship Gender Discrimination

INTRODUCTION

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is. [1]
Jan L. A. Van de Snepscheut (Dutch-American computer scientist and educator; 1953 – 1994)

Although the implementation gap that exists between the theory and practice of gender equality vis-á-vis the conferring of Guruship has been raised and discussed by Sikh apologists, we intend to examine some of the more serious academic discourse forwarded in defence of this apparent anomaly.

Our contention is that the reasons and excuses delineated by Sikh scholars and thinkers in their attempted pursuit to sustain and protect this cherished ideal of gender equality amounts to muddled and inconsistent explanations.

In actual fact, any attempt at defending this chimerical ideal of “blind equality” will invariably point to the insurmountable gap that exists between the theory of gender equality and its practice vis-á-vis Guruship because, in essence, it is easy to advocate, but impossible to actualise due to its impracticability.

However, this subject is directly related to something so much more profound when it comes to God’s proven Truth, and that is: truth-living. If the 10 Gurus, and thus Sikhism, really were champions and pioneers of gender equality, then how far were they willing to go to prove this on a practical level? To put it more succinctly: did they practice what they preached?

Hence, in this regard, Dr Inder Jit Singh, professor and co-ordinator of anatomy at New York University, poses a two-fold question that is very pertinent to the subject of discussion:

When we look at the place of women in Sikhism, two questions come to mind. Has there been a consistent theological teaching on this matter in Sikhism? Secondly, what does history teach us about our practices? [2]

ORTHOPRAXICAL LIP SERVICE

We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach. [3]
Bertrand Russell (British author, mathematician, & philosopher) 

The problem that has dogged Sikhs for so long in this regard is due to them having committed a cardinal mistake in their claim to Truth; a mistake that invariably results in a backlash against what is being espoused; and that is: putting all your eggs into one basket.

For many of them, gender does not exist; it is a social construct that stops people from giving women absolute equal rights and opportunity. The ones who taught and established this ideal, we are told, are their beau ideal: the 10 Gurus. We are further told that they were the complete embodiment of “truth-living”. They abhorred and denounced what they saw as spiritual-less, mechanised routines of worship, such as, fasting, the Muslims five daily prayers, circumcision, etc., if the people carrying out these rituals were not doing so out of sincerity to their Lord. Unlike the Gurus, these people were not properly implementing what they preached.

In almost all major faiths, it is usually part of the examination of a preacher’s character to determine whether what is being preached is being put into practice. And it is customarily and theologically interpreted to be a character blemish if a preacher has failed in this respect. Often such a person acquires notoriety for merely paying lip service:

LIP SERVICE
Insincere support or respect expressed but not put into practice. [4] (bold ours) 

And what is worse is if said person has the means and ability to actualise a “verbal expression of agreement or allegiance”. In this case, such espousals would be seen as hollow words or empty speech.

This could even be construed as hypocrisy; though we acknowledge that the word hypocrisy, as Samuel Johnson (d. 1784) noted, can be misused:

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself. [5] (bold ours)

However, this excuse may be true in relation to the laity, but certainly cannot, or should not, be applicable to a Prophet/ Messenger/ Guru who is said to have been appointed by God to be an absolute paragon of moral virtue. After being appointed to this role, such practitioners are, presumably, elevated to an unparalleled level of civil and social responsibility which demands of them the highest levels of moral and ethical standards of practice.

Indeed, this is true for all of the 144,000 Prophets and Messengers sent by Allaah to their respective people, over the long course of human history, in the Islamic tradition.
This was summed up perfectly by one of the great scholars from the companions of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allaah), Ibn Abbas, who said:

A man went to Ibn ‘Abbas radiAllaahu ‘anhu and said, “O Ibn ‘Abbas, I want to enjoin people to do good and forbid them from doing evil.” Ibn ‘Abbas said, “And have you reached that level?” He said, “I hope that that is so.” He said, “If you do not fear to be exposed by three verses of Allah’s Book, then do so.” The man asked, “And what are they?” He mentioned this verse:

Enjoin you Al-Birr (piety and righteousness and each and every act of obedience to Allah) on the people and you forget (to practise it) yourselves.” (Baqarah 2:44)

And then asked, “Have you applied the implications of this verse?” He said, “No.” Ibn ‘Abbas then mentioned the second verse:

O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do? Most hateful it is with Allah that you say that which you do not do. (As-Saff 61:2-3)

After that he asked, “Have you applied the implications of this verse?” He said, “No.” He then mentioned the third verse regarding Shu’aib alayhi salaam:

“I wish not, in contradiction to you, to do that which I forbid you.” (Hud 11:88)

And then he asked, “Have you applied the implications of this verse? He said, “No.” Ibn ‘Abbas said, “THEN BEGIN WITH YOURSELF.” [6] (bold, capitals ours)

SubhanAllah (Glorified and Perfect is Allaah above all possible defects and deficiencies)! Begin, he taught, by firstly practicing what you intend to preach.

Let us say, for arguments sake, that the 10 Gurus taught gender equality, this brings us to the all important second question posed by Dr I. J. Singh: “What does history teach us about our practices?” More specifically and relevantly:

What does history teach us about the Gurus’ practices? 

A PRACTICAL HYPOCRISY

The answer to the preceding question is that there were no female Sikh Gurus. This should lead to the aforementioned problem of lip service and empty rhetoric; but, for some, it is not a problem, including Dr I. J. Singh, who states:

Yet people ask, if women were so equal in Sikh teaching, how is it that none of the ten Gurus was a woman? Why is it that when Guru Gobind Singh ordained the Khalsa, none of the first five Sikhs who voluntarily offered their heads was a woman? [7] 

Such questions are seen by him to be utterly foolish:

I find such reasoning regressive at best, if not asinine. [8] 

It is an extraordinary conclusion considering the ramifications we have already highlighted in the previous section.

Yet, the reasoning is not so asinine as to prevent the Sikh common folks from asking and debating amongst themselves the apparent clash between theory and practice, as “Parminder Kaur” questions on a prominent Sikh internet forum:

I was in discussion with some sikh members and a young girl asked me this question. “Why are there no women Gurus, if Sikhism treats men/women equally?” [9] 

To which “Mr. 5ingh” responds:

It is an excellent question which left me speechless too. [10] 

There is also the not so asinine issue of whether a “woman [can] be one of the Panj Piyara’s?”; a question SikhWomen.com attempts to answer on its website. [11] This too ties in with the topic of discussion because not only were females overlooked for Guruship, but they were likewise ignored, despite a sizeable contingent present, during the initiation ceremony for choosing the first batch of Panj Pyarai of the Khalsa by the final Guru, Gobind Singh. We will come to discuss this later, God-willing. 

In order to explain away this conspicuous gap between theory and practice vis-á-vis the 10 Gurus, two general approaches are adopted by the apologists:

1) The early historical precedence of women being given the same roles to fulfil as men.
2) The necessity of taking into account the socio-cultural/ political milieu of that period.

A tiny example in regards to the first approach can be gleaned from SikhWomen.com, which boasts:

Sikhism is unique in recognizing unequivocal equality for all human beings and specifically for both men and women.  Among equality of all human beings, fundamental aspects of Sikh theology include implicit gender equality and independence for women. …

Sikhism advocates active and equal participation in congregation, academics, healthcare, military among other aspects of society. [12]

Likewise, the apologetics site, Project Naad says:

Not withstanding the absence of the names of important Sikh women in Sikh history, it is amply clear that the Gurus’ mothers, wives, sisters and daughters were active participants in the Sikh movement. [13] 

As for the second approach, in response to Jakobsh’s “valid point”: “Yet if women and men are inherently equal in Sikh tradition in terms of roles and status, why are they not given similar representation in the pages of Sikh history?”, Project Naad proposes:

To begin with, a historian must study the environment that shaped the history of Sikhs. The history of any people is the product of the influences of the environment and so the following factors must be considered. …

The Sikh movement developed in a very corrosive patriarchal culture, having to deal with both Hindu and Muslim patriarchal values. So this would limit the roles that women could assume such as female Gurus. [14]

This approach, rather than providing a sound explanation, instead only succeeds in opening up a can of worms which serves as proof against these apologists. The participation of some women alongside their male counterparts in the early Sikh community in actual fact negates the appeal to the socio-cultural setting of this period; and this is what we are going to examine in the following section.

EXAMINING THE FACTS

Many Sikhs proudly proclaim that “Sikh history is riddled with famous women providing leadership in military campaigns”. [15] In defence of Guru Gobind Singh, Mai Bhago, is said to have repelled a pursuing Mughal force in a “fiercely fought battle”. [16]

Women of a similar calibre were just as capable as men in administering the affairs of the quasi Sikh provinces under Mughal rule at the time. All this is, we are told, in keeping with Sikhi injunctions:

Guru Nanak has fixed specific duties and responsibilities of the religious life. The first is of accepting equality between man and woman. Guru Nanak clearly states, “Why downgrade woman, when without woman there would be none”, and “It is she who gives birth to great persons.” When the Third Guru created manjis or districts of religious administration, women were appointed in charge of some of them. [17] 

In fact, according to Sikh historian Baldev Singh, these “women headed some of the twenty-two manjis (dioceses) set up by Guru Amar Das”. [18] B. Singh reminds us that “Guru Hargobind and Guru Gobind Singh were very young when they assumed Guruship … [while] Guru Har Krishan was a mere child of five”. But:

What was the major influence on these Gurus at that very critical period in Sikh history…? The answer, of course, is the influence of their mothers: Mata Ganga, Mata Gujri and Mata Krishan Kaur, respectively.

Further, it was Mata Sundri (Jito) – wife of Guru Gobind Singh – who guided the Sikh community through a very difficult period of external repression and internal divisions after her husband’s death – about forty years (1708-1747 C.E.), longer than any of the nine Gurus subsequent to Guru Nanak. [19]

In contradistinction to this, however, and as we mentioned above, it is reasoned that the socio-cultural norms of the day need to be taken into consideration when attempting to tackle this all important topic.

According to Dr I. J. Singh:

In exploring some baffling matters of Sikh history, keep in mind that contemporaneous events are a different matter. When we look at happenings of long ago, we need to remember that we must not judge yesterday’s conduct by today’s standards. One does not measure the past by the yardstick of today… One cannot ignore the cultural and societal context of the times when we sit in judgment of history. [20]

A similar reason is given by Gurpreet of SikhWomen.com in answer to a question over why “no women can become one of the Panj Pyare”. After flippantly claiming how the questioner “makes me realize how much more we need to educate our generation”, she responds:

When we use a historical event as an example, then in all fairness we need to evaluate the social fabric of the time. [21]

Although this seems to be a rationally sensible approach, it really does not provide a credible reason as to why the 10 Gurus failed to put their teachings into practice in order to set that important historical precedence.

Is the allusion here that the social situation and cultural environment was non-conducive and unsuitable for the appointment of a female Guru? This is certainly a reason that Dr. I. J. Singh prefers in his attempt to explain away Guru Gobind Singh’s final act in failing to include a female during the formation of the Khalsa:

History tells us that perhaps 80,000 Sikhs attended the convention called by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 when the Khalsa was ordained. Many, if not nearly half, must have been women…. perhaps many of those women were busy with their squabbling children. Perhaps they never heard the dramatic call by Guru Gobind Singh; there were no sound systems then. Many of them might have been busy with langar if 80,000 had to be fed. Given these preoccupations and considering the Indian society of which they were the products, many of them might have thought it more prudent to leave such matters to their men, particularly if it was going to involve fighting and battles. [22] (bold ours) 

But the good Doctor cannot have his cake and eat it too. It is clearly a self-defeating argument to suggest that the Gurus approved of sword wielding-horse riding women fighting alongside them in battles, as well as those who managed high-level leadership roles, but found them deficient on account of their sex vis-á-vis Guruship. Especially when Dr I. J. Singh contradictorily states:

In Sikh history, women have led armies into battle. [23]

Either these women had what it took or they did not. Surely there must have been at least one woman with the all round credentials to be chosen, if only to uphold what so many Sikhs incessantly repeat: gender equality.

THE PANJ PIYARAI

Dr I. J. Singh’s aforementioned reasoning is, of course, quite farfetched, conjectural, and certainly contradictory when seen in the larger context of things. Even if we were to accept the incredulous assumptions that it takes “nearly” half, i.e. 40,000 women, to feed the many hungry mouths, while attending to the squabbling children; and that many of them did not hear Gobind Singh’s call at that historically defining moment, are we to blame them or their Satguru in the grand scheme of things? If this was the great epoch-defining ceremony in Sikh history – the formation of the Khalsa – you would expect every ear to attentively bear witness to such an important chapter.

Even if every single woman, including the warrior class or those sitting over their ‘manjis‘, were not paying attention, one would expect the Guru to make certain of their undivided attention. Better still, instead of asking for volunteers, why not, in the spirit of gender equality, appoint three men and three women to be the Khalsa’s chai pyarai (six beloved)?

And Gurpreet’s rationalisation on SikhWomen.com is equally absurd. She too appeals to the historical “norm of the time” claiming that “social science is at play here”. She further asks:

Were women back then encouraged to volunteer for tasks like there [sic] that were usually taken up on [sic] by men?  

LIP SERVICE: Insincere support or respect expressed but not put into practice.

What of the question of children? Were they encouraged back then to volunteer for tasks that were usually taken up by men?” The inexplicable rationale that materialises in this context can only lead one to the conclusion that the appointment of young children as Gurus to lead the Sikh community, viz. the eighth Guru Har Krishan at a tender age of five [24] and Guru Gobind Singh at the age of nine, [25] respectively, was acceptable, but not women. Why is the perceived gender role of women vis-á-vis the socio-cultural milieu not raised in regards to the safety of a young child? The implications borne out of this bizarre reasoning are that either a young child’s safety is less of a concern than that of a woman’s or that a child is better equipped to take on and fulfil the role of Guruship than one of those empowered and fearless female Kaurs.

Gurpreet then anachronistically appeals to Guru Nanak as one who “defied the norm of the day in granting women equal rights. That is why he was a pioneer, a visionary, a person of God to whom God’s word was revealed”. Not only had Nanak passed away by then, but he too had failed to appoint a female Guru.

She then disjointedly reasons:

At that time no children or elderly volunteered either. So does that mean that they did not have the courage? How many other factors are we going to come up with to discriminate against each other? So I guess age should be a factor in picking our Panj Piare. Oh wait, did any vegetarians volunteer? Did any Sushi lovers volunteer? Not to humor anyone, but where does this end? [26] 

It ends with us asking the simple question of why all 10 Gurus failed to take the initiative themselves to apply what they were preaching vis-á-vis the most important appointment in Sikhism, a move that would have undoubtedly epitomised the true essence and actualisation of gender equality: Guruship?

Gurpreet then misses the forest for the trees:

Your comment defies the basic principles of equality.  We need to reflect on history and think about why our Guru’s indeed encouraged us to defy the beleifs [sic] of that time. [27] (bold ours) 

O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do? Most hateful it is with Allah that you say that which you do not do. (Qur’an 61:2-3)

Unfortunately for her, she might have, but her 10 Gurus did not.

Before we move on to examine the implications of this failure, it will be beneficial if we tackled a few of the more fanciful and farfetched reasons forwarded by the laity.

One such example was given by a one Manvir Singh Khalsa [28] on SikhNet’s discussion forum where he says that “it just so happens” that “after the 3rd Guru passing on Guruship to 4th Guru all following Guruship remained within the family. THere is a sakhi that states it was the request of one of the daughter’s of the 3rd Guru. The fact is that All of the Guru’s after the 4th Guru had only Son’s [sic].”

But another member, Serjinder Singh, quotes the “Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Ed. Harbans Singh, Punjabi University Patiala (article by Gurnek Singh)” which highlights the falsity of the claim that all Gurus subsequent to the fourth only had sons:

“Bibi Viro born 1615 was daughter of Guru Hargobind ji and Mata Damodari at Amritsar on 11 July 1615. She was married to Bhai Sadhu, son of Bhai Dharma a Khosla Khatri of village Mall.”

Similarly sixth Guru ji Har Rai had a daughter Rup Kaur, the entry in Encylopaedia Of Sikhism (article by Bhagat Singh) above is as follows: “Bibi Rup Kaur commonly believed to be the adopted daughter of Guru Har Rai, was according to Bhatt Vhai (Talaunda), his real daughter born to Mata Sulakhani on 8 April 1649. She was married on 3 December 1662, to Khem Karan, son of Bhai Per Mall, a Dhussa Khatri of Pasroor in present day district of Sialkot(now in Pakistan). The young couple, however, settled at Kiratpur itself in the house now known as Gurdwara Manji Sahib, where some of the Bibi’s personal articles are preserved as sacred relics. Bibi Rup Kaur had a son, Amar Singh, whose descendents are now living at Dialpura Sodhian in Patiala district.”

This proves that despite there being female descendents in the Guru families they were not given GurGaddi. Thus, it wasn’t the absence of female descendents as the reason for there not being female Gurus. [sic] [29]

sikh_guru_family_treeSee also this family tree (right) attributed to the Gurus: [30]

But for Manvir Singh Khalsa, the fact that “it was a woman who determined the Guruship from 5th-10th Guru’s [sic]” solves the problem. However, once again this only seeks to compound the problem.

The request on the part of this woman leads to nothing except another form of inequality in the shape of familial preferential treatment, which leads to the rejection of all other Sikhs thereafter. So much for the Sikh Sangat!

However, if the establishment of gender equality, as we have shown thus far, is as fundamental a part of Sikhism as claimed, the question arises as to why Guru Amar Das failed to recognise this overarching importance and thus reject said request?

Further to this, even if we accept, for arguments sake, that Guruship would remain within the family from a particular moment in time, the question of why the Gurus failed prior to the implementation of this familial preference still remains unanswered.

THEORY AND PRACTICE

None goes to heaven by mere talk, but emancipation is by living the truth.
Guru Nanak

This failure also raises a serious question mark over their self-appointed role as a ‘Guru’ of God.

But, firstly, the question that needs to be answered, and one which we have already answered for Islam, is whether this failure really matters in Sikhism? If it does not, then we are guilty of imposing our paradigm over others unjustifiably.
This, however, does not seem to be the case at all. To the contrary, Islam’s inviolable ethical principle of “practice what you preach” is also cherished in Sikhism.

Prof. Avtar Singh addresses this issue in detail in his book Ethics of the Sikhs. He quotes Guru Nanak as saying:

None goes to heaven by mere talk but emancipation is by living the truth. [31] [32]

He then asks what ‘wisdom’ is: 

Can we call such person a wise man as does not live his wisdom, in the sense that his actions do not reflect his wisdom? …

Guru Nanak shows wisdom to be “a comprehensive point of view as indicated in the actions of a man.” [33]

As for the concept of equality, he unequivocally states:

The attempt is made in Sikhism to institutionalise this equality through various practices. [34]

And since equality is connected to social ethics, he further says:

In this analysis, by social ethics we mean the study of the response of the man in [sic] social situation according to certain moral principles.

It may be added that the social situation is a test in terms of which it may be possible for us to evaluate whether a person who professes humanistic outlook is faithful to what he proclaims or he is merely a sentimentalist who is dabbling in emotions but is devoid of action in the moral sense. [35] (bold and underline ours)

Prof A. Singh then ties the connection between theory and practice with the three Khands, or “dimensions”, as he puts it:

In the second progressive stage the person is required to seek tri-dimensional realization, three khands are the gian khand, the saram khand and the karam khand, which are respectively, the dimensions of knowledge, aesthetics and action. All these three are to be carried out to their ideal ends in an integrated manner. It is a simultaneous process of gradual realization in all respects. Action without knowledge and aesthetic feeling would be blind just as knowledge and feeling without being translated into action would be barren sentimentalism – a painted ship on a painted sea. Knowledge and feeling are to function in harmony with action. But, in so far as the realization of the ideal of all these three is concerned, they mark a sort of simultaneity. [36] (bold and underline ours)

And:

Lastly, the Guru has also stressed the need to practise the good and not to merely talk about it. Guru Arjan Dev condemns such a person when he says, “He instructs others but practises not he himself, he knows not the quintessence of the word,” [37] This unequivocally indicates that all that one learns to be good, ought to be practised in ones acts. And without such a practice in ‘acts’ other realization in terms of knowledge or aesthetics cannot be called complete. That would only be a sort of meaningless updes (speech). [38] (bold and underline ours)

It is this sacred relationship between speech and action, theory and practice, which leads the following people to lament over those of their fellows who have fallen short in this regard.
H. S. Bedi decries:

In Sikhism, women have equal rights and status with men. In actual practice this is not being followed. [39] (bold ours) 

Dr Gurnam Kaur bemoans: 

We can see from the life history of the awakened souls that they are equally entitled to the spiritual and have equal insight into the Bani. Being a male-dominated society she is being deprived of so many spiritual rights at present. She should be given equal rights because she is the equal member of the Khalsa. There is a lot of difference between the theory and practice. [40] (bold ours)

While Dr. I. J. Singh confidently asserts:

Sikhism promised an equal place to women. The predominant society in India then and now does not; therefore, the practice fell far short of the preaching. In many matters however, Sikhism delivered. For instance, the Sikh gurus were the first to raise their voices against sati, a truly abominable custom. The Sikhs instituted Widow remarriage. There is no activity in the Sikh religion reserved exclusively for men, nor is there any which is closed to them, at any time of their lives. If in a Sikh service men and women sit on separate sides, it is based on custom, culture and tradition, not canon. In Sikh history, women have led armies into battle. [41] (bold ours)

The assertion that “there is no activity in the Sikh religion reserved exclusively for men, nor is there any which is closed to them, at any time of their lives” is, as we have clearly demonstrated, untrue. Although the 10 Gurus may have succeeded in instantiating all of the above, they fell miserably short of the mark when it came to what is arguably the most critical act in proving beyond reasonable doubt that gender equality vis-á-vis Guruship was not simply empty rhetoric; and that was to put it into practice themselves.

A BOYS ONLY CLUB

In total, the Guruship extended over a span of 200+ years. With the volatile socio-political milieu, especially during their more violent militant period, one would expect given the expediency of the situation along with the long period of time available for education and reform, that the Gurus’ combined efforts would manage to produce at least one woman with the necessary all-round credentials worthy of being selected for the role of Guruship.

According to Shanti Kaur Khalsa, however, this has already been done. In this regard, she bravely throws out the following challenge: “Now nobody dares say this to me; but I look forward to the day when some Sikh will come up to me and say: ‘Well, if women were supposed to fight, how come they didn’t stand up and become one of the panj pyarai?'” And follows it up with an answer:

Well after the death of Guru Gobind Singh, Mata Sundari [the wife of Gobind Singh] led the Khalsa for 40 years. There was no man great enough to stand and take the place of Guru Gobind Singh. For 40 years the Khalsa was led by a woman. [42]

Despite there being female descendants in the Guru families they were not given GurGaddi. Thus, it wasn’t the absence of female descendants as the reason for there not being female Gurus.

If not a Sikh, then allow a Muslim to take up this challenge and say: in light of all the above, if Mata Sundari was so great, why was Guruship not conferred unto her to finally put the theory into practice? If that was not important enough, why not at least acknowledge her greatness by including her among the panj pyarai? It took over 200 years to produce a woman of Mata Sundari’s calibre, and at the most critical juncture in history, she was ignored. Worse still, in relation to the question of leadership, Gobind Singh overlooked his own wife for a quintet of incompetent males, and in doing so brought enough doubt over the issue of theory and practice vis-á-vis Guruship for likeminded Sikhs and non-Sikhs to raise such seemingly problematic questions as has preceded in this research paper. Little wonder the SGGS states:

karameheen dhhan karai bina(n)thee kadh naanak aavai vaaree ||
The unfortunate soul-bride makes this prayer: O Nanak, when will my turn come? [43]

And we would contend that the failure on the part of the 10 Gurus created an historical precedence that has directly resulted in the ‘Singhnia’ being sidelined and ignored ever since.
Gurumustuk Singh grumbles thusly: 

MAN – The Dominant
I always feel a little awkward when I hear Sikhs boasting things like, “In Sikhism there is Gender Equality. Women can do everything than men can”. Of course this is the ideal and the teachings of our Guru’s, however in reality and practice we have much to overcome to truly establish this so called “Gender Equality”.

Khalsa Women – Panj Piaray
Some people email me from time when I post a picture of the Panj Piare in our sangat which most of the time has a woman. The comments I get are like, “women can’t be in the Panj Piaray“. I think that is ridiculous since Khalsa has no gender and the “Panj Piaray” is any 5 Sikhs of the Guru, not any 5 men of the Guru. This is such a clear indication of how deep the issue of gender inequality is in the Sikh communities and how we rationalize things to suit ourselves and our own understanding. [44]

Have you ever noticed that at Harmandir Sahib women are not allowed to do Kirtan and do certain seva? It’s like a boys club. What kind of example does this show the world? [45]

A “boys club” indeed! And we now know where this so-called inequality most plausibly stems from: the 10 Gurus themselves.

Although Sikhism teaches that “knowledge and feeling are to function in harmony with action”, as Prof. A. Singh has delineated, this was certainly not achieved by the Gurus. And since knowledge, as Prof. A. Singh adds, “without being translated into action would be barren sentimentalism – a painted ship on a painted sea,” one is pushed towards the conclusion that this knowledge Sikhs today define as gender equality was, in respect to all the Gurus, “meaningless updes (speech)”.

We end this paper with a candid evaluation from Dr I. J. Singh:

About the place of women in Sikh teaching, ask any Sikh, no matter how uninformed or unconcerned he or she is about Sikhism. The answer will be quick that they are equal, have always been so, and that the Gurus so ordained it. But push a little further.  Ask any Sikh, no matter how liberated or erudite in the intricacies of the faith, of the position of women in Sikh society today and he or she will hem and haw, and side step the issue with an agility that will do credit to the wiliest politician at a hostile press conference. [46]

[1] Also cited by: D. Rosenberg and K. Scott, Applying Use Case Driven Object Modeling With UML, p.1.
[2] Dr I. J. Singh (2004), What Sikhism says about gender and sex?, (International Sikh Conferences), p.3.
[3] Sceptical Essays (1928), Eastern and Western Ideals of Happiness.
[4] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/lip+service
[5] Rambler 14, P. 154. In Chalmers, Alexander: Full text of “The British essayists: with prefaces, historical and biographical“. Retrieved 2009-04-15.
[6] A.-M. Mujahid (2004), Gems and Jewels: Wise Sayings, Interesting Events & Moral Lessons from the Islamic History, (Riyadh, Darussalam)
[7] Dr I. J. Singh, op. cit., p.4.
[8] Ibid., p.5.
[9] P. Kaur (2008), Why were there no women gurus.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Gurpreet (2005), God said so and you must believe it so.
[12] SikhWomen.com (2005), Equality.
[13] Project Naad (2007), Challenges to Gender Equality in Sikhism, p.5.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Project Naad (2008), Empowerment of Women by World Religions, p.1.
[16] History of the Sikhs (2003), Mai Bhago, (History of the Sikhs).
[17] D. Singh (1999), Sikhism and Civilisation, (Global Sikh Studies), pp.107-8.
[18] B. Singh, Relocating Gender In Sikh History Transformation, Meaning and Identity (Author: Doris R. Jakobsh): A Critical Analysis, p.14.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Dr I. J. Singh, op. cit., p.5.
[21] Gurpreet, op. cit.
[22] Dr I. J. Singh, op. cit., p.6.
[23] Ibid., p.8.
[24] Sikhi Wiki (2005), Guru Har Krishan.
[25] Sikhi Wiki (2008), Guru Gobind Singh.
[26] Gurpreet, op. cit.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Why were there no women gurus (15-7-2008).
[29] Ibid., (17-7-2008).
[30] Sikh Information (2005), Sikh Guru Family Tree, (Sikh Information).
[31] Fn.1: Adi Granth, Var of Majh, Sloka M. 1 (2-7), p.141.
[32] Ibid., p.99.
[33] A. Singh (1996), Ethics of the Sikhs, (New Delhi, Punjabi University, Patiala), p.87.
[34] Ibid., p.164.
[35] Ibid., p.146.
[36] Ibid., p.228.
[37] Fn. 2: Adi Granth, Asa M.5, p.380. Updes kare ap na kamave tate sabad na pachana.
[38] Ibid., p.245.
[39] (Edited) H. S. Bedī (2001), The Sikhs in the new century, (Khalsa College, 2001), p.102.
[40] Dr G. Kaur (2004), Guru Granth Sahib and the Gender Equations, (International Sikh Conferences), pg.21.
[41] Dr I. J. Singh, op. cit., p.8:
[42] S. K. Khalsa (date: unknown), The Singhnia of Guru Gobind Singh, (Espanola, New Mexico), time slice: 4:22-4:57.
And alternative link.
[43] Gurbani, (Sikh To The Max).
[44] G. Singh (2006), Women in Sikhism: Gender Inequality?, (mrsikhnet, 27 Nov).
[45] G. Singh (2005), Panj Piaray at Baisakhi, (mrsikhnet, 14 June).
[46]  Dr I. J. Singh, op. cit., p.1.

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