Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, India
Sunday, January 19, 2003
Sikh women have been denied equal rights for a long time, even at Darbar
Sahib. I would have found it unimaginable if I hadn’t experienced this
discrimination first hand.
Back in 1994, my family and I arrived at Darbar Sahib very early in the
morning to watch the Guru Granth Sahib being carried across the sarovar walkway. As
the gates opened and the palanquin arrived, we saw people, only men; take
turns to help carry the palanquin.
I told my mom I wanted to do that too. That was when she told me we were not allowed to. My mom disappeared into the crowd and then I heard her voice telling me to go ahead. I had every right and I did. I pushed my way into the crowd and held on for only a couple of seconds until the crowd swept me away. My mom had managed to do the same. We both got yelled at …whatever. We were both happy for the moment.
The experience was quite a rude awakening. It was painful to see that a basic
tenet spelled out by our Gurus was not being followed, not even at Darbar
This is a problem that cannot be ignored. It is so fundamental that it has
grown tentacles into all kinds of other problems that face Sikh society. Denial
of equal seva at Darbar Sahib is at the surface, but what lies beneath is the
attitude of Sikh society that women are inferior, the practice of dowry, women
cutting their hair, domestic violence, the preference of male babies, and
The equality of Sikh women has become just lip service in practice and Sikh
political and religious leaders are parties to this hypocrisy.
While Sikh leaders admit that gender discrimination is against the tenets of
Sikhi, they stop short of taking action. They can only offer lame excuses like
“orthodox Sikhs will retaliate.” Does “orthodox” mean that one can pick and
choose which tenets to follow? Sikhi-by-committee is a dangerous idea. Sikh
tenets do not need anyone’s approval.
Doing the right thing is not always the popular thing to do, but it has to be
done. This crisis should be looked upon as an opportunity for Sikh leaders
such as Jathedar Joginder Singh and SGPC’s Kirpal Singh to make a real
difference. They must use their positions as bully pulpits to liberate Sikh women and
set an example for Sikhs all over the world.
We can overcome our problems.
Equality is the Guru’s hukam. Live the truth. Start by letting the beautiful
words of the Guru Granth Sahib, sung by the sweet voices of women, resonate
from Darbar Sahib.