Sikhism & Women: Some questions & answers
Originally published by the Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh
1. What rights do I have as a Sikh woman?
A Sikh woman has equal rights to a Sikh man. Unlike Christianity, no post in Sikhism is reserved solely for men. Unlike Islam, a woman is not considered subordinate to a man. Sikh baptism (Amrit ceremony) is open to both sexes. The Khalsa nation is made up equally of men and women. A Sikh woman has the right to become a Granthi, Ragi, one of the Panj Pyare (5 beloved), etc.
2. Is God considered a Male or Female?
The Guru Granth Sahib contains many Names for God, both masculine and feminine. These are all used to describe God. Ultimately, the Gurus do not consider God to be male or female. The Mul Mantra states that God is ‘Ajuni’ – Unborn. Thus stating that God belongs to neither sex.3. What does the Guru Granth Sahib say about Women?
The Guru Granth Sahib is unique in religious history. It is the only religious text that was compiled and authenticated by the founders of its faith. It consists of beautiful hymns which teach you about your spirituality and purpose in life. Guru Arjan states that the Guru Granth Sahib will give you ‘Truth, Contentment and Contemplation’. Concerning women, Guru Nanak has said,
‘It is through woman that order is maintained.
Then why call her inferior from whom all great ones are born.’
Guru Granth Sahib, Pg. 473.
The Gurus went further. They used the Woman symbolically in the Bani to represent the disciple.
4. What restrictions are there on what I can wear?
When Sikhs take Amrit they must all, regardless of sex, keep the same 5 k’s. Guru Nanak has stated that one should only wear those clothes which do not distress the mind or the body.
‘Friend, all other wear ruins bliss,
That which to the limbs is torment, and with foul thinking fills the mind.
Guru Granth Sahib, Pg. 16.
The Gurus had also made a firm stand against the wearing of the veil, which is so popular amongst Muslims and Hindus. Even Christian nuns are made to cover themselves more than Christian priests. Guru Amar Das refused to allow a Hindustani Queen from entering the sangat until she had removed her veil. In the Guru Granth Sahib, the veil is compared to suppression.
‘False modesty that suppressed is ended.
Now with veil cast off am I started on the way of devotion.’
Guru Granth Sahib, Pg. 931.
5. Can I read the Guru Granth Sahib?
Yes. The reading of the Guru Granth Sahib is open to all. In Hinduism, a woman is not considered capable of reading the Vedas in a Mandir. This is not so in Sikhism. Guru Amar Das was brought to the fold of Sikhism after hearing Bibi Amro reciting the Gurbani.6. Can I be forced into an arranged Marriage?
Sikhs are forbidden from forcibly marrying off their children without their prior consent. Both Sons and Daughters are required to reach a mature age, both physically and mentally, before they marry. Thus, parents must ensure their children are allowed to grow and be educated to the fullest. Arranged marriages are the norm for Sikhs. Sikhs are forbidden from marrying outside their faith and are not allowed to keep sexual relationships outside of marriage. The Gurus considered marriage an equal partnership. Guru Amar Das has stated,
‘They are not said to be Husband and Wife who merely sit together,
Rather they alone are called Husband and Wife, who have one soul in two bodies.’
Guru Granth Sahib, Pg. 788.
This is in contrast to other faiths. In Islam the Husband is permanently the dominant partner.
‘If your wives are over-bearing, advise them against it.
If they do not care, refuse them sexual intercourse.
If they still persist, then give them a thrashing.’
Holy Quran, Al-Nissa 4-34.
7. What about a Dowry?
Sikhs are forbidden from marrying off their children for monetary benefit. Concerning the Dowry, Guru Ram Das says,
‘Any other Dowry, which the perverse place for show,
is false pride and worthless gilding.’
Guru Granth Sahib, Pg. 79.
8. Who is considered more spiritual, Men or Women?
Unlike other faiths, Sikhism states both men and women are considered capable of reaching the highest levels of spirituality. A particular hymn in the Guru Granth Sahib states,
‘In all beings is he himself pervasive,
Himself pervades all forms Male and Female.’
Guru Granth Sahib, Pg. 605.
9. Why are we then not treated equally at birth?
If this is the case, then this is against Sikhism. The Birth of a daughter or son is equally joyous for Sikhs. The practise of giving sweets and celebrating Lohri only on the birth of a boy is not Sikhism.10. I may have religious rights, what about Independence?
No Sikh is taught to be subservient to someone else. Thus, independence is open to both sexes. However, this does not mean that you merely know your rights and not your responsibilities. There is no priesthood in Sikhism, so every Sikh must lead a devotional life. The path of love which Guru Nanak initiated is open to all,
‘Should you seek to engage in the game of love, step into my street with your head placed on thy palm,
while onto this stepping, ungrudgingly sacrifice your head.’
Guru Granth Sahib, Pg. 1412.
The Khalsa nation started by Guru Gobind Singh is open to men and women. Guru Nanak had observed how defenceless women had been when Babar, the first Mughal Emperor of Hindustan, had invaded Punjab.
‘Babar with wedding party of Sin from Kabul rushed down,
and forcibly demanded surrender of Indian womanhood’
‘Set aside were Kazis and Brahmins, and Satan went about solemnising marriages.
Muslim women , reciting the Quran, in their affliction called on Khuda.
Other women of lower castes and of the Hindus in this suffering too include in your account.
Says Nanak: Sung are paeans of blood and sprinkled is blood for Saffron’
Guru Granth Sahib, Pg. 722.
Guru Gobind Singh ensured that such an event would never occur again. By taking Amrit every Sikh man and woman would be able to protect themselves with their Kirpan. Thus, ensuring they would not need to be dependent on anyone. Further, Rakhri Bandan is a tradition implying that women are dependent for protection on their brothers.
11. Asian Women are subservient to their Husbands. Does Sikhism state that I must be also?
Hinduism does state that women are under the control of men. The laws of Manu state,
‘In childhood a female must be subject to her father,
in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons;
A woman must never be independent.’
Law 148, Chapter V.
Sikhism is totally opposed to this view. Christian women must change their names after marriage. The concept of maiden and married names is alien to Sikh philosophy. Sikhs practising it now do so out of ignorance. A Sikh woman is born with the surname Kaur and dies with the same surname. Thus, allowing her to keep her identity throughout her life. Further, Ms is preferable to Miss or Mrs.
12. Are there any important Sikh Women in our History?
Sikh history is one which has been made by both men and women. There are many, many outstanding Sikh women. The Gurus’ wives led highly spiritual and independent lives. Mata Sundri ji led the Sikhs for a long period after Guru Gobind Singh returned to his heavenly home. Sada Kaur was a famous Sikh Jathedar and ally of Ranjit Singh who made possible the Sikh empire of the 19th Century. The list of important Sikh women is endless.