Sikh Women's Seva: Raise Your Voice

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh.

Dear Sadh Sangat Ji,

The state of women's position in the Panth today is absolutely abysmal, and, as far as the present debate is concerned, against Gurmat. Guru Nanak wrote, "So ki-o mandaa aakhee-ai jit jameh raajaan." "Why call her inferior who gives birth to Kings?" Yet the leadership in Amritsar seems to think it their duty to cater to the prevalent traditions and deny women the simple privilege and blessing of washing the marble floors at the Golden Temple. Their reasons thus far have been based on some mistaken notion of "Sikh tradition" that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Sikh values given by our Gurus. The seva issue at the Golden Temple points to a much deeper prejudice against women in the Panth, especially those living in India. There are vested interests who are denying women their rightful place in the Panth. This is not tradition but rather discrimination.

What other "Sikh traditions" are we seeing in the Panth? Spousal abuse? Gender selection? Marrying based on caste? Dowry? All of these practices keep women too insecure to assert their independence, too afraid to speak their own voice, all too willing to let men who know nothing about the Guru's teachings maintain a vise-like grip on Panthic power.

On March 11, 2003, the SGPC created a five person team to investigate Panthic sentiment on the question of women performing seva. Our desire is that this team will be thorough in hearing the thoughts and opinions of all, including the international Panthic community, and we pray this committee will not be used to sidetrack the issue with political gimmicks.

Yet, they will still never be able to listen to the voices of all the young Sikh women who would have been in their 20's by now, but were aborted in the womb simply due to their sex. In the Punjabi country-side, the ratio of Sikh men to Sikh women is unnaturally and dangerously imbalanced, with 550-600 girls for every 1000 boys in regions dominated by "Jat Sikh" farmers. (Source: Families 'buying' girls as marriage crisis deepens, Irish Times. March 10, 2003.) This is the result of a culture that simply values men more than women and, with the advent of technology that can predetermine the sex of a child, hatred against women combined with modern science has produced what is becoming not only a world-wide crisis, but a major crisis in the Panth, itself.

Yet - is this preference for male children above female children a "Sikh tradition" as well?

In the time of the Gurus, women had equal status with men and were equally responsible for building the Khalsa. There was no arena in which they were denied access, and as the Guru's mission spread in India, many women served as leaders in their communities - teaching and upholding the Guru's words.

Today - we see no female Granthis at our most sacred shrines. We see women denied the right to play kirtan at the Harmandir Sahib. In fact, we see very few Sikh leaders at all, men or women, with the courage to address the issues facing our communities. We are close to failing and becoming irrelevant, ignored by the youth through behavior unbecoming of Sikhs.

And is all of this based on "Sikh tradition" as well?

As a Westerner who has embraced Sikh Dharma and its high ideals, I fail to see the difference between the behavior of the leadership in Amritsar and the worst behavior of other religions that have oppressed women for thousands of years. Yet, the Gurus gave women an equal place on the earth and in the court of God. So who are these Sikh men to create a "good-old-boys club" that leaves Khalsa women in a subordinate, inferior and basically silent position in the Panth? What is the difference between the actions of these Sikh leaders and the fundamental Muslims who keep women invisible and behind a veil?

When is the Khalsa going to rise up and start living as Khalsa?

The values and teachings given by our Gurus is the medicine to heal the world's ills. Giving woman her rightful place of respect, honor and equality in the community was one of Guru Nanak's first acts, and this laid a strong foundation upon which our beloved Gurus could build a sovereign Khalsa spiritual nation. Every Sikh in the Panth has a duty to restore the foundation of our culture by bringing women into her proper position – both privately and publicly – within the Panth. Every Sikh leader has a duty to fight for the rights of women in the Panth, to eradicate so-called "Sikh" traditions that have nothing to do with Sikh values, to challenge the mindset that is allowing our future women to be killed before they are even born. And let us be on guard against pretenders and imitators who adopt the dress and rituals of the Khalsa for personal power and privilege, but betray the Guru's teachings with their every breath.

The SGPC has created a team of five people to hear Panthic sentiment on the issue of women's seva at the Golden Temple. Let us go on record, together, so there can be no doubt in the minds of our leaders, and in the eyes of history, where the Panth stands on this matter.

All love in the Divine,

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa,
Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh.

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa
SikhNet Communications Director
Espanola, NM


PLEASE LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD ON THIS ISSUE
We kindly request members of the Sikh community to sign and add their comments to the petition asking that the 1996 Hukamnama giving women access to washing the floors of the Harimandir Sahib be enforced. Sign the petition at: http://www.petitiononline.com/Seva2003/petition-sign.html (View full details at: http://www.sikhnet.com/s/SevaLetter).

SikhNet would like to invite all Sikh organizations world-wide to develop their own position statements on the issue of women's seva at the Golden Temple and distribute them to the world-wide Sikh community. If your Sikh organization would like to have your position statement published through SikhNet, please email your statement to: womenseva@sikhnet.com

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