image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

Sikh Women Do Have a Part To Play !

          The topic this week is prompted by a recent letter from Bibi Balvinder Kaur Saund, Chair, Sikh Women's Alliance, copied to some Sikh activists including this columnist. She expressed concern about the total absence of women kirtanee jathas at a major UK Sikh event. To quote: No ladies Jathas or even children&rsquos Jatha photos. The flyer does not make us women feel included that as Sikh Women, we have a part to play in such religious events.

Despite some other fire-fighting issues which face us today, I believe this topic is an important. Bibi Balvinder Kaur has reminded us &ndash yet once again &ndash that sometimes, women are conspicuous only by their absence at some national religious and other events. This column aims to highlight such issues not covered by the more sensational news headlines. That means picking up some topic which has been neglected or forgotten because mostly we seem to be fire-fighting other issues without finding lasting solutions. For example, the current topic is the plight Afghanistan Sikhs. We have known about the great suffering of the Sikh families in Afghanistan for many years. (see my review of a documentary by Pritpal Singh at footnote link**). Let us DO something this time!

Returning to the topic of Sikh women raised by Bibi Balvinder Kaur, the topic is not new and has been going on for many years. Requests for more participation in Sikh activism by women and young Sikhs have been continual. She writes: You got to talk the talk and walk the walk to empower the women, and not hide them away in Gurdwara kitchens&hellip&hellip.. the negative reactions of family members towards the birth of a female baby, has pushed many Sikh women into depression and mental illness&hellip.

Last week, this column responded to the rather dramatic prediction that Sikhism is facing extinction! Such predictions have been made before only to see the Sikhs flourishing. However, indirectly, the topic of the falling Total Fertility Rate in Indian Panjab has something to do with the negative reaction to the birth of female babies in many families and the perceived lower status of women.

As a society, we devalue the great role and vital societal position of women in Sikhi. Symbolically, women are the earthly representatives of the soul brides of the Lord of all souls, the One and Only Akal Purakh. The Lavan recited and sung by (mostly male!) ragi Singhs, confirm that all human beings are soul brides of the Creator Being. All need to cultivate the qualities of the batti sulakhni, an expression which refers to the proverbial 32 virtues and qualities of an ideal woman. In that respect, women obviously have a head-start over men! Yet, we do not actively seek representation of women in senior religious roles. The question of more women ragi jathas and parcharaks has been raised a number of times before.

If the mother of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was allowed to do Gurbani Kirtan at Sri Darbar Sahib in the 18th century, our central institutions should not deny that sewa to women jathas today.

** Afghanistan Sikhs documentary: http://www.sikhnet.com/news/documentary-mission-afghanistan-plight-sikhs-afghanistan

Gurmukh Singh OBE