Feminism is a doctrine or movement that advocates equal rights for women and for women organized movement for the attainment of such rights. Several movements of feminist ideology have developed over the years. These movements often overlap, and some feminists identify themselves with several types of feminist thought. In modern world first-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focuses on overturning legal inequalities, particularly women's suffrage.
The concepts in support of women's rights have cropped up lately in the society, till the appropriate perspective time and behavior required got evolved and gained. It is an open fact that till 1920 women were denied voting right in USA itself, certain other countries women were given the right to work in offices or drive the vehicles 2017 onwards.
At the time of the Gurus, women were considered very low in society. Hindus regarded women as inferior and a man's property. Women were treated as mere property whose only use was as a servant or for pleasure. They were considered seducers and distractions from man's spiritual path. Men were allowed polygamy but widows were not allowed to remarry but to burn themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre (sati). Child marriage and female infanticide were prevalent and purdah (veils) was enforced upon women. Women were also not eligible to inherit any property. Many Hindu women were captured and sold by the invaders as slaves in foreign countries.
To know what was the change for women in Sikhism of fifteenth century; one has to retrospect the retrospective picture of circumstances from where they were liberated?
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) and were used as assassins. Deva Dasi or Jogins was another tradition of marrying and offering to deities for the service of the temples. They were sexually exploited by the priestly class till it was recently banned legally. 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) among the brothers. One girl is married to all brothers. In the North West Dehradun to Uttrakashi, Chkarata hills to Har ki doon, Tuni to Jubbal near Shimla and some parts of Himachal too, one girl is married to all brothers. In Muzaffar Nagar area (Western UP) only one son gets married and the bride is shared among brothers.
I cannot 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. People had to go far away from houses to lonely places in the dark before dawn to answer the call of nature. I quote page 20 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. “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 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.
Indian Supreme Court’s view
On September 28, 1918, a five-judge Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court of India in a case filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association, has allowed entry of women in the above temple saying that, “menstruation age could not be a ground to create any social and religious barrier for women to enjoy rights to equality and dignity and to exclude them on that basis would be derogatory to equal citizenship”. It also quoted, “However, in the more recent religion such as Sikhism, a more pragmatic view of menstruation is taken, making it clear that no ritualistic impurity is involved. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib deems menstruation as a natural process – free from impurity and essential to procreation.”
A Revolt & Rebel
It is a historical blunder and tragedy that Sikhism which was a revolt and rebellion movement has been wrongly labeled as a religion. In fact, it was a movement against the inhuman domination and access of the custodians and controllers of the religions, society, and state. And also it was against all the systems which looked down upon the three fourth of human population, consisting upon women and low castes. This has been sadly belittled and Sikhism confined to just a Bhagti Cult.
Shri Guru Nanak Sahib advocated for grhastha - the life of a householder instead of celibacy and renunciation from household responsibilities. He also raised voice against female infanticide. Husband and wife were equal partners and fidelity was enjoined upon both. In sacred verse, domestic happiness was presented as a cherished ideal and marriage provided a running metaphor for the expression of love for the Divine.
The principles of Sikhism state that women have the same soul as men and thus possess an equal right to cultivate their spirituality with equal chances of achieving salvation. The Sikh Gurus did much to progress woman rights which were crushed in the 15th century. To ensure new equal status for women, the Gurus made no distinction between the gender in matters of initiation, expression, propagation, instruction or participation in sangat (holy fellowship – seating together) and pangat (eating together), which can be observed in every Gurdwara the Sikh Temple.
Dignity of women
Without the fear of any contradiction it can be said that, 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 8 verses 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, and God alone is without her favor.” 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 social and religious rites throughout the life without any exemption or interruption for any period and reason whatever it may be. They possess as an esteemed position as their counter parts.
Liberators of Women
Ahmad Shah Abdali Dur-e-Durran invaded India nine times between 1747 and 1769. In April 1761, he was returning triumphant after winning the third battle of Panipat, his booty included 2200 Hindu women being taken to Afghanistan to be sold. The Sikhs were approached by the relatives of the women for help. The Sikhs caught up with the Afghans at the River Sutlej at Goindwal, rescued the women and had them gallantly escorted to their families.
Ahmad Shah succeeded in taking its revenge on 5 February 1762, by carrying out a full-scale massacre. Near the village of Kup, near Malerkotla, an Afghan Army numbering 1,50,000, surrounded Sikh men, women and children, nearly 30,000 Sikhs were killed in a single day's battle, known in Sikh history as Vadda Ghallughara, the Great Holocaust.
In order to break the Sikh power base, in April 1762 he attacked and completely destroyed Shri Harmandir Sahib the golden temple and blew up with gunpowder, the sacred sarovar the tank was filled with debris and animal carcasses. But the Sikhs were by no means crushed. Within four months of the Great Carnage, the humble Sikhs inflicted a severe defeat on his Afghan governor of Sirhind. They started fighting pitched battles although outnumbered numerically and materially superior forces of with Ahmad Shah Abdali. They defeated and forced him to withdraw from Lahore for Afghanistan on 12 December 1762.
Shri Harmandir Sahib has been at the centre of Sikh spiritual & temporal affairs. This is perhaps the reason why successive regimes have sought to interfere with its management and influence. It has been invaded and destroyed several times. However, each time, it has been rescued from the hands of the tyrants and re-built more gloriously than before and gained in influence and importance over the years.
Those regimes who wish to quash the Sikhs should understand that the KHALSA is destined to be free and sovereign. History has proved that if you befriend the Sikhs they can be the greatest of friends. However, if you attempt to confront them, they can become the most dangerous of enemies.
Reforms for women
Since inception of humanity, women were subjugated by men dominated society. Women were presumed as “Narak Dwari that is door to hell”, but Sikhism gave them the status of “Mokh Dwari” that is door to heaven. And at the same time Celibacy that is abstention from sexual relations is denounced. The house holders’ life is regarded as the best way of living. Sikhism has brought drastic reforms to bring them equal to men :-
I- Keeping women under veils was prohibited. Bhagat Sheikh Kabir ji says on page 484 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib:-
rhu rhu rI bhurIAw, GUMGtu ijin kwFY] AMq kI bwr lhYgI n AwFY ]1]rhwau] Rah, raho ri bahuria, ghoonghat jin kaadhey. Ant ki baar, lahegi na aadhya.1-Rehavo.
This means, “O’ daughter-in-law, do not cover your face with veil. At the end it is not worth of even half a shell. (In those days shell was used as medium of currency). (Pause-central theme of the hymn)
II-Women and men were made to sit together equally in religious assembles and cook, serve and dine with males in a single row.
III-Mata Khivi ji, wife of 2nd Guru Shri Guru Angad sahib was the overall in charge of Langar, supervising and looking after the entire management.
IV-Women were encouraged to fight battles shoulder to shoulder with men.
V-Women can take part in all religious rituals throughout the year without break of any particular days of falsely presumed impurity.
VI-Practice of polygamy having more than one living wife and polyandry having more than one living husband was prohibited.
VII-Widows and divorced are permitted to remarry at par with men if so desired by them.
VIII-Sati system of the widows burning on the pyres of their husband was prohibited. On Page 787 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Shri Guru Amar Das ji says
sqIAw eyih n AwKIAn, jo miVAw lg jlMin] nwnk, sqIAw jwxIAin, ij ibrhy cot mrMin] (m:3 – AMg 787 – SRI gurU gRMQ swihb)
This mean, “the 3rd Nanak says, do not call them 'sati', who burn themselves along with their husbands' corpses. The real Sati is who lives her life in burning herself in the fire of separation.”
Manji System & Ladies
This was an innovative system of chairs of authority established by the 3rd Guru, Shri Guru Amar Das Ji to spread the message across Punjab, India and Afghanistan, under a logical and well planned method of administration. Twenty-two devoted Gur Sikhs, all noble, devout men and women were appointed. Among them two ladies were Bibi Matho and Bibi Sachan Sach.
Champion of Equality
The most famous teachings attributed to Shri Guru Nanak Sahib are that there is only one God, and that all human beings can have direct access to God with no need of rituals or any middleman such as priests etc. His most radical social teachings denounced that everyone is equal, regardless of caste or gender.
At the age of 11 he refused to put on Janevoo (Sacred Thread) which is denied to the Lower Cates and Women, as such creating disparity among the people. Shri Guru Nanak Sahib is such a unique personality which has no parallel in the history. Though he declared that he does not profess any religion, but both Hindus and Muslims claimed him to be one among them. He is the only non Hindu who visited Jaggan Nath Dwara Temple at Puri in Odhisa-India, where non-Hindus are not permitted to enter. Even Indian prime ministers Smt. Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi, who claimed themselves not only to be Hindus but much more as saviors of Hindus and Hindustan were not permitted to enter. At the same time Guru Sahib also visited “Kabatul Allah” at Mecca, where non-Muslims are not permitted to enter.
The strange thing is that at both the places Guru Sahib was welcomed, heard with patience and respected for his views. Though, he was critical at both the places, for the futility of their rituals performed, instead of true worship of the Lone Creator. Finally in 1699, his 9th successor Shri Guru Gobind Singh ji transformed the misunderstood status of Sikhs into “Wahguru ji ka Khalsa” that means “Sovereign People of the Wondrous God”, putting an end to all speculations of belonging and dividing into any religion.
Marks of Equality
Generally all married Hindu women alike wear black beads called “Mangal Sutra”. In addition the Hindu women put Bindi on their foreheads to show their marital status. But Sikh women do not put any sign of these marks equally to the males.
All other new religions declared and condemned the previous religions saying that their spiritual practices as out dated and were liable to be changed. That is why God has revealed this new religion for the welfare of the humanity. As by passing of a new Act, any government repeals the previous and prevailing Act and Laws. All of them also claimed the new concept of their religion has been revealed to them by GOD HIMSELF, hence should be adopted by every human being. There is a unique peculiarity of Sikhism that it endorses all the existing religions and their holy books. It condemns the people who do not understand the text and are influenced by the false rituals.
In India under prevalence of these age old circumstances, Shri Guru Nanak Sahib (1469-1539) the founder followed by his nine successor Gurus during their Guru-ship period of 239 years from 1469 to 1608 have jointly established Sikhism and lead a movement. The unique beauty is that for continuance of this movement eternally, the Guru-ship was conferred to the holy Granth (means book) Sahib, which is a digest of 36 contributors in local communicative spoken dialects across the Indian sub-continent. It contains 1 Sikh, 2 untouchables, 6 Gurus, 7 Muslims and remaining from different denominations of Hindus. All lived householders’ life, earned their livelihood through honest means, preaching of oneness of God and oneness of humanity. They included Bhagat Sadhna ji a Muslim butcher from Sind-now in Pakistan, Bhagat Sain ji (1390-1440) a barber from Madhya Pradesh, 2 untouchables Bhagat Nam Dev ji (1270-1350) from Maharashtra and Bhagat Ravi Das ji (approximately 1500- and left 1597) a cobbler from Uttar Pradesh. In addition to it, upper castes such as Brahmins and Bhagat Pipa ji (born 1426) a Chauhan king from Rajasthan, were also included. This multi religious holy book containing 1430 pages, seated in every Gurdwara right from Shri Harmandir Sahib (Golden temple) to any local Gurdwara.
Why no woman is in this Holy Scripture?
India is a land of spiritual gurus and is known for spirituality. There are many women spiritual gurus too who have amassed unprecedented followings in India as well as globally. They promoted spirituality, meditation, love, peace, brotherhood, serving others and other such humanitarian values to people in India and the rest of the world. The bhagti movement witnessed emergence of women saints, and almost all of them were conformists and were married but renounced householder’s life. None of them stood on the parameter of the contributors leading the natural married life. So none of their verses or bhajans were included in this Holy Scripture.
Woman in Preparation of Amrit?
I would like to remind you the Baisakhi of 1699, when Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji had associated his better half Mata Ajito Ji in the preparation of the Amrit for administering the Khalsa. He 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 (holy hymns). 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 1677, a pet name Sundari (beautiful) 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.
In the year 1700, after one year of Amrit Sanchar episode of 1699, 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 Sahib Kaur Ji after receiving Amrit. There is no reason to believe that she was ever married and never had physical relationship with the Guru Sahib. As a consequence of Mata Sahib Kaur Ji did not have child. In view of her dedication of services and desire to have child, Guru Sahib declared her the "Mother (spiritual) of the Khalsa" and Guru Sahib as their (spiritual) Father. Due to the grant of this status, she is mistakenly understood of having married and shared in preparation of Amrit by putting the batase.
Protection of women
Now a day, due to the increase of attacks on women, the police ask them to equip themselves with martial arts, keep knives or pepper sprayers etc., with them. But a Sikh girl is already equipped with “Kirpan” that is a weapon as compulsory article of faith, to protect herself and also to protect others. If even the last corner of the sheath of the Kirpan is noticed peeping out of her clothes, no person dares to tease a Sikh woman. A true Sikh woman is a boon for protecting the society from the eve teasers.
Respect for Muslim Women
In the book “Freedom at Midnight”, authors Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, on page 424 of the fourth reprint 2000 quote that: “The Sikhs’ tenth guru has specifically enjoined his followers against sexual intercourse with Moslem women”. As a mark of respect for women and ethical standards for disciples, adultery is strictly prohibited in Sikhism. The particular mention about Muslim women shows deep regard for the people against whom Sikhs were fighting with tyranny of the then Muslim rulers in most of the battles. Another reason appears to be effectively dissuading most Hindus who had been persecuted and had embraced Sikhism to settle scores and seek revenge on Muslim women folk, which used to be the general trend after a battle.
In is not out of place to mention one incident of Maharaja Ranjit Singh the Lion of Punjab, whose kingdom was much larger than present day Pakistan. In 1802, he was summoned to appear before Shri Akal Takhat Sahib, (the highest Sikh religious seat of authority) at Golden Temple, Amritsar for marrying a Muslim Dancing Girl Moran. He was awarded Tankhwah (religious punishment), to be tied publicly to the tamarind tree baring his back to receive the whips. After getting himself tied, the remaining punishment was waived. According to page 302, of “Tareekh Lahore” by Syed Mohammad Lateef (who served as a senior bureaucrat for long time in Punjab) , published in 1997 from Lahore and available at Delhi Public Library, “Begum Moran remained as Muslim, and in the year 1809, the Maharaja constructed a mosque “Masjid Moran” in her name in Papad Mandi, Lahore.”
Role of Woman in Sikhism
It is nothing but character assassination, to say that, Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji committed polygamy (having more than one wife) and 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 Amar Das 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 one soul in two bodies.”
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[ 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) as flesh of cow and pig for the Hindus and Muslims”.
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 centers 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 is run by the Maritime Sikh Society which elected an all women team of office bearers to manage its affairs by all women president and executive to run the Gurdwara from 1992-93 onwards. In fact, all the elected members of her executive are women. This is the first time that a women executive was elected to run a Gurdwara in North America, or perhaps in the entire Sikh world. In fact a woman has become President of MSS four times. In other way, they have become a powerful group next to Gurdwara committees. It is hoped that they could plan and perform something new, innovative, productive and revolutionary for revival of the values of Sikhism and uplift of the Sikh masses?
They are treated at par with the men in holding positions or performing ceremonies in the Gurdwara. The Ardas prayer at the culmination of the ceremonies is also performed by ladies. S. Gurdial Singh Dhillon, Indian High Commissioner to Canada (1980–82), when saw a woman leading the Ardas ceremony in this Gurdwara, offered the compliment, "This is the first time I have seen a woman performing an Ardas in a Gurdwara. You have given them the equal rights they deserve".
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 initiate a crusade for reforms in religious traditions and economic uplift of the Guru Panth.
Sikh Code of Conduct for Women
Any person male or female could not claim to be a Sikh by birth. In Sikh Code of Conduct it is defined as any person, who faithfully believes in the baptism (Amrit Sanchar), as promoted by the tenth Guru and does not owe allegiance to any other religion.
Advance and completed form of Sikh is “Khalsa”. No person can become Khalsa, unless partakes initiation by taking “Amrit that is Sikh way of baptism”, introduced in 1699 by the 10th Guru Shri Guru Gobind Singh ji. It is mandatory to follow one common code of conduct equally by men and women that is “Sikh Rehat Maryada”. No difference is made among them. Both have to keep “Kirpan” that is a sword irrespective of the size on the person. They are permitted to carry in the most restricted security zones, even where the personnel of Defense Services are not allowed unless on duty. Sikhs are permitted to carry on person in Domestic Flights restricting it to the size of six inches of blade for security reasons. Due to the Universal Terrorist Threats, in International Flights they are asked to keep it in booked baggage and take back at the destination.
The only difference between male and female members is in putting the suffix after the name. The male members have to put the word “Singh that is lion” and the female members have to put the word “Kaur that is princess”, after their names.