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Vision for Sikh Women

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  • 1. Nanak Singh Nishter Director, International Sikh Centre for Interfaith Relations, “Sant Bhavan”, 15-3-137, Gowliguda Chaman, Hyderabad-500012 E-mail: nanaknishter@gmail.com Mob: 0 98 48 35 31 05 Vision for Sikh Women Introduction As a student of religion and a social activist, I would like to share my views particularly with the women the treasury and nursery of The Great Guru Panth. The voters’ list of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandak (SGPC) Elections 2011, indicates the registration of 52 per cent of women even though the sex ratio stands 893 females per 1,000 males in that area. It is mandatory for every voter not to tamper with the hair and has to give an undertaking to this effect. This means women are more practicing Sikhs than their male counterparts. If they realize their strength, worth and vision, they can prove to be most powerful lobby in bringing a revolution among the community. The future of the Guru Panth will be altogether different than what we are visualizing nowadays, if both the parents realize responsibilities for rightful bringing up their children in molding their life to become good human being by adopting the Sikh Way of Life. The recent worst riotings, lootings and clashes with police, across the U.K. witnessed during August 2011, is an eye opener particularly for the parents. Respectable lives behind masks have been revealed with the arrests of culprits between the tender age of 11 years and mature age of 44 years including a 19 years young lady. Describing the root cause the Prime Minister David Cameron has told the parliament that, “The sickness starts on welfare-addicted estates where feckless parents let children run wild”. It is the need of hour to remind the parents their esteemed role in establishing the Sikh traditions of the past and proposed plans for the future particularly of the Sikh Women in view of the theme of the seminar. Instead of going deep into the history and Gurbani from the beginning, for want of time I will take the period of 10th Master. We always remember Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji for filtering Five Khalsa (Punj Pyare) from among the Sikhs. But due to false male ego, we rarely remember the role of a single woman Mata Bhag Kaur Ji for transforming Chali Muktey (forty liberators) from among the Khalsa, who betrayed Guru Sahib at the crucial time in the mid battle of Anand Pur Sahib. This golden chapter is a pride of our history, indicating the unique role of a woman for brining back the derailed Khalsa on the right track. Nowadays, again it is the ripe time when the Sikh women should take initiative and inspiration from Mata Bhag Kaur Ji to revive the crusade to rescue the present deserters of the Guru Panth. It is easy to complain and even diagnose the problem, but it will be a useless exercise unless some remedies are not suggested how to eradicate the evils? In my humble opinion, I would like to share some token views on the ways and means to proceed and attain the goal, leaving the rest at their own intellect. Role of Woman in Sikhism I would like to remind you the Baisakhi of 1699, when Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji has associated his better half Mata Ajito Ji in the preparation of the Amrit for administering the Khalsa. He 1
  • 2. asked her to put the batase (sugar puffs) in the vessel (Bata) filled with water in which he was stirring with Khanda (double edged sword) reciting Gurbani. It is unbelievable to expect her to do so without asking for, by the Guru Sahib as depicted by some historians. She was married in 1684, a pet name Sundari (beautiful - as she was) was given to her after marriage as per the custom in Punjabi families. She became Mata Ajit Kaur Ji after taking Amrit, but the name of Mata Sundari Ji continued. Mata Sundari Ji was not the second wife of Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Sahib. After one year of Amrit Sanchar of 1699, in the year 1700 Mata Sahib Devan's father wished her daughter to marry Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji due to her deep dedication. When Guru Sahib refused as already married, he asked permission for her to live in the Guru's house as Sikh and serve the Guru and his family. She was named as Mata Sahib Kaur Ji after receiving Amrit. There is no sufficient reason to believe that she was never married, as she never had a physical relationship with the Guru Sahib. As a consequence of not marrying Mata Sahib Devan Ji and her not being able to have children, in view of her dedication and services Guru Sahib declared her the "Mother (spiritual) of the Khalsa" and Guru Sahib as their (spiritual) Father. Due to the grant of status, she is mistakenly understood of having married and shared in preparation of Amrit by putting the batase. It is nothing but character assassination, to suggest Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji of committing polygamy (having more than one wife) and of having 3 wives. The misunderstanding arises in separation of Mata Sundari Ji and Mata Ajito Ji (Mata Ajit Kaur Ji after Amrit) as being 2 different people, and of Mata Sahib Kaur Ji being married. Such mischief has also done with Shri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji. This fact could be conveniently substantiated in the light of Sikh Code of Conduct that is Sikh Rehat Maryada, wherein it is forbidden to have more than one spouse at a time. And in view of several quotations from Shri Guru Granth Sahib and Vaaran Bhai Gurdas Ji, regarding the sanctity and reverence of married life and relations between husband and wife. On page No.788 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Shri Guru Amardas Ji says:- Dn ipru eyih n AwKIAin bhin iekTy hoey] eyk joiq duie mUrqI Dn ipru khIAY soie] Dhan, pir yeh na aakhiyan behan ekatha hoiye. Ek jot doye murti, dhan pir kahiye soye. It means, dhan (wife) and pir (husband) are not those who sit together. Husband and wife are those who live like two bodies with one soul. In Pouri No.8, Vaar No.6, Bhai Gurdas ji says:- eykw nwrI jqI hoey pr nwrI DI BYx vKwxY[ pr Dn suAr gwie ijau mkrUh ihMdU muslmwxY[ 2
  • 3. Eka naari jathi hoey par naari dhee bhain vakhanai. Par dhan sooar, gaaye jiv makrooh Hindu Muslamanai. It means, the person living with one wife is a Jathi (Sanyasi-denouncer of the world-bachelor) and treats other women as daughters and sisters. Other than the spouse all woman are Makrooh (Arabic word – forbidden) flesh of cow and pig for the Hindus and Muslims. Women in India To know what is new for women in Sikhism, one has to retrospect the circumstances from where they have been gradually liberated in the Indian perspective. It was the custom to give cattle and women in charity. Young girls were made poisonous by exposing them to low intensity poison called Vish kanya (Poison girl) were used as assassins. Deva Dasi or Jogins was another tradition of marrying and offering to deities for the service of the temples, now this has been legally banned. Women were put to stake at gambling and still sold for various reasons. It was a status symbol to marry more than one wife. Even today, when several stringent laws have been enacted, richer tribesmen practices polygamy, while their poor counterparts, choose to share a wife (polyandry), though the husbands should be brothers. One girl is married to all brothers on the north west of Dehradun to Uttrakashi, Chkarata hills to Har ki doon, Tuni to Jubbal near Shimla and some parts of Himachal too. In Muzaffarnagar area (Western UP) where only one son gets married but the bride is shared among brothers. I could not find suitable words to describe the disgusting state of affairs about the treatment women were meted out by the Brahmins in Karnataka of south India. In olden days, people have to go far away from houses at the lonely places in the dark before dawn to answer the call of nature. In the book “Hindu Manners,, Customs and Ceremonies” by ABBE.J.A.Dubois – translated from the author’s later French by Henry K. Beauchamp, C.I.E., Fellow of University of Madras, in its third edition by Rupa & Co., mentions on page No. 20 that, “In the interior of Mysore, women are obliged to accompany the male inmates of the house whenever the later retire for the calls’ of nature, and to cleanse them with water afterwards. This practice, which is usually viewed with disgust in other parts of the country, is here regarded as a sign of good breeding and is most carefully observed.” At Swamy Ayyappan Temple (a bachelor deity) at Sabarimala Mountains, in Kerala state of South India, no woman between the age group the of 10 and 50 (probable age group between puberty to menopause) is permitted to climb even the temple mountain. The ban was upheld by Kerala High Court in 1990. In the year 1995, the same High Court granted permission to 42 year lady District Collector Ms. K. B. Valsala Kumari to coordinate pilgrim services at the shrine, but not to enter the sanctum sanctorum. In spite the court directive to perform her government duties, the temple priests did not allow her to cross the "No-women zone” to climb the mountain to supervise the arrangements from outside. Women preachers 3
  • 4. Women are the most influential and effective preachers in all religious societies, right from Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. There is another new rapidly growing cult of Brahma Kumaris (wearing white saris) founded in the year 1932, by Dada Lekhraj Khubchand Kripalani (1876–1969), a diamond merchant from Hyderabad-Sind of Pakistan now designated as Shiv Baba. Their headquarter is at Mount Abbu, Rajasthan, India, and having about nine thousand interconnected centres in more than 130 countries all over the world. They are the most aggressive preachers, and instrumental in admitting lakhs of persons annually in their folds. This is the work force and dedication for conversion of the women folk of such faiths, where they were never treated equally at par with men. Sikh Women Religiously and socially, Sikh woman is the most significant and venerated person than in any other religious traditions. Her dignity was not only upheld but praised and venerated by Shri Guru Nanak Sahib in a complete Shabad on page No.473 saying that, “The entire human race including Kings and Prophets are indebted to her for coming into being and survival, God alone is without her favour. The shabad starts from the verse:- BMif jMmIAY BMif inMmIAY BMif mMgxu vIAwhu] Bhand jamiye bhand nimiye bhand mangan viyahu. She has been accorded equal rights of individual and collective performance of religious rites all over the life, without any exemption or interruption for any period and reason whatever may be. Even though they possess such an esteem position than their counter parts, let us introspect what role they are playing and what should be their NEW AGENDA. Now there is dire necessity of Sikh Missionaries with a different task of retaining the Sikhs in their Khalsa fold. We have Gurdwaras as our religious centres and financial resources. But, they are confined to their traditional activities of celebrations and constructions. Most of the persons controlling these institutions do not have the vision to see beyond that or do not want to come out of their webs for retaining their office and are compelled to withhold these ongoing traditions. Unfortunately they are drifted from the very purpose of Gurdwaras which were meant for learning and economical uplift of the masses much above the prayer assemblies. So instead of following them or wasting our energies in convincing them for adopting the new vision, we should come out with a dedication to take the task upon our self collectively or individually in some way or the other. I appreciate the role of Sikh women for performing kirtan, forming Dhadi Jathas, Sukhmani Sahib Groups and Istari Sat Sang Groups for kirtan and celebrating Gurpurabs, so on and so forth. In Canada at Halifax, Nova Scotia, a Gurdwara run by the Maritime Sikh Society has elected an all women team of office bearers to manage its affairs. In other way, they have become a powerful group next to Gurdwara committees. Then why not they could plan and perform something new, innovative, productive and revolutionary for revival of the values of Sikhism? My humble submission is that they should get recognized the worth of their gender with a stepping stone to march forward to meet the present day challenges of the community. This is appropriate time for them to follow the footsteps of Mata Bhag Kaur Ji as a Role Model to 4
  • 5. initiate a crusade for reforms in religious traditions and economic uplift of the Guru Panth. Let us introspect in following few lines, is there any such need at all? Our Miserable Social Status In every human society, broadly speaking there are three economical group of people that is lower income group, middle income group and higher income group. The group of around poverty level lower income Sikhs forms the majority of the community. They could not dare to think beyond struggling fight against hunger and rarely come to Gurdwara due to inferiority complex. To get educated their children is an unrealistic dream for them. The middle income group is unable to bear the increasing higher costs of quality and competitive education. The higher income group people are generally not seriously interested to educate their children to compete with their peers. As a result we are poorly lacking to produce quality personalities in our community, who can prove to be an asset for the community and the society. In the Provisional Population Series 1, Paper 1 of 2011 of the Government of India Census 2011, shows the decadal difference of literacy ranking of the States. In the Census 2001, Punjab stood on Rank 15, but in 2011 Census it has gone down to Rank 21. The community wise data of 2011 is yet to be tabulated. But for the time being the literacy rate among the Sikhs shown in the 2001 Censes could be taken into consideration. According to it, the Sikhs are at the 4th position with 62.16% literacy rate in the country. And still lower in Punjab with 58.67% again at 4th position after the Jains 86.10%, Hindus 64.79% and Buddhists 62.94%. Is it not a matter of shame for all of us that about half of the Sikh population is literally illiterate, without having any knowledge of simple reading and writing of any language (definition taken by Census Department)? According to NSS-R61 that is National Sample Survey Round 61, 2004-2005 of The National Sample Survey Organization in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation of Government of India, found that among the Sikhs 30.70% are the Scheduled Castes and 0.90% are Scheduled Tribes. Number of people belonging to the Lists of Backward Classes is not surveyed, so no data about the Sikhs belonging to Backward Classes can be presented. But it is almost certain that in addition to these Reservation Categories, each and every Sikh all over the country is included in the list of Minorities including Punjab. As such all the Sikhs come under one or the other category and are eligible for all sorts of Scholarships for obtaining education from 1st standard to Ph. D. level. Liberal Financial Assistance from the Banks up to 80% is provided and 10% subsidies of the cost of project is given as a gift, for starting any business ventures and manufacturing units or for promoting the existing ventures by all State Governments, Union Territories and Government of India, which can change the fortune of the community people. That means, with only 10% share of the cost, any project can be taken up. For lay persons, several free training programmes are also provided. What more is required for any person, who wants to earn honorable livelihood (Kirat)? Need for Social & Religious Reforms We are confined to the human psychology in blaming others for our shortcomings and faults, without doing anything by ourselves. We are sitting in Ivory Towers and determined not to amend our ways and means for lavish spending of our personal and community funds. We feel proud and pleasure in pomp and show of celebrations for our self projection and benefitting a 5
  • 6. few of our chosen ones while grossly neglecting a major part of our community in distress. Due to the day by day deteriorating conditions of our social and religious standards, let us retrospect our responsibilities towards the need for reforms at least at our individual level, which could be done even without making any change in our prevailing practices. 1- Let us realize that both the parents are equally responsible for bringing up the child and their responsibility to establish themselves as a role model. For this purpose they should resolve to spend sufficient time with their children and other youngsters, interact with them as friend, philosopher and guide in every disciplines of life, so that they could be influenced by your living and teaching. This is your most valuable contribution for building the future of your “Guru Panth”. 2- But at the same time we should not forget the age old proverb that, “mW kI god – b`cy kI pihlI qrbIAq-gwh hoqI hY[ Maa ki godh – bachchey ki pehli tarbiyatgah hoti hai” (lap of the mother is the basic teaching institution of the child). Whatever language child learns from mother become its “Mother Tongue” and the learnt Sanskar (behavior) remains for life long. It is most essential that the mothers should pledge to give “Sikhi Sanskar” and Gurbani in Gurmukhi Script to their children, so that they should remain connected with Shri Guru Granth Sahib that is our Guru and our Scripture. 3- In the present scenario, it is unavoidable and important for the women to come forward to devote more time than their counterparts for bringing up their children from womb to world, cultivating the spiritual and temporal qualities (Dharam and Duniya) to protect their children from the evil effects of the society. 4- If you want to continue to dump your Daswandh in the conventional way, then at least spare some of your time for acquiring the knowledge and educating Gurbani. And also awakening to avail the Government Schemes for utilizing perennial source of finance for Education and Empowerment, for which every Sikh is eligible as a matter of Constitutional Right. Our people listed in Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and converts are entitled for more benefits. 5- Even if it is not feasible for you, you may hire professionals and avail their services to serve these objectives, let them be from any religious background. Otherwise, at least for the sake of Wahguru Sahib, resolve to make it you favorite pass time of gossiping about the above issues for reinforcing stimulus. This will help as source of inspiration for some or other person to come forward and become instrumental, and take interest for spreading this mission? The author may kindly be contacted for any further information about the Government Schemes. 6
  • 7. (Paper presented on Sunday the 6th November 201 at a National Seminar on “Sikhism and Women” organized by Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, India). 7