(After eight years of studying and writing about Sikhi via the internet, I have returned to university, age 53. I am finishing up my Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and will soon enter the Masters program, also in Creative Writing. This article was written for a university class I just completed on Global Women.)
Kamalla Rose Kaur
I am very upset this morning and need to cry.
Statistics today reveal the genocide/abortion of female feotus continues.
1500 amongst British Indian born women over last 15 years or so.
7 Million on the subcontinant. Most highest number ??
Punjab and Gujrati communities
Amongst the most prosperous!! Sikhs and Jain communities
Jaswinder Kaur, Sikh woman posting on Sikh internet forum.
Why are so many Sikhs of Northern India participating in female foeticide and why can’t Sikhs seem to stop it? Down through humanity female infanticide is usually linked with hopeless poverty. But Sikhs in India- and not low income, uneducated Sikhs either – are aborting their futures, depriving their o so precious and valued sons of wives. This is especially sad and horrifying because the Sikh religion promotes womens equal rights. Sikh dogma and doctrine specifically forbids female infanticide; also the Hindu practice of sati and the Islamic practice of veiling women. Sikhs have been trying to keep their culture against amazing odds since the very conception of their religion, 500+ years ago. Now in one generation, due to one bad sad sin, there are no longer enough Sikh women being born.
Infanticide, Abortion Responsible for 60 Million Girls Missing in Asia
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
By Sherry Karabin
…In India, where the child sex ratio is calculated as the number of girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 years age group, the problem is severe. The 2001 Census shows there are only 927 girls per 1,000 boys, representing a sharp decline from 1961 when that number was 976. In certain parts of the country there are now fewer than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys.
“The problem is more prevalent in the northern and western states, where prosperity, rapid fertility decline and patriarchal (male heads the family) mindsets combine to put girls at risk,” said Ena Singh, the assistant representative at UNFPA.
My intention is to communicate, to the best of my abilities, why Sikhs have this horrible problem, how Sikhs are responding to it and why it is hard for Sikhs to get anything done at this point in their history.
SIKHS VS. SIKHI
Hear my prayer, my Only Master; all beings and creatures were created by You. You preserve the honor of Your Name, O Beloved One, Cause of causes.
Dear Creator/Creation, Beloved, please, make me Your own. Whether good or bad, I am Yours.
(Pause and reflect)
The Almighty heard my prayer; cutting away my bonds, my Beloved has adorned me. The Beloved One has dressed me in robes of honor, and blended this humble servant with the One True Master.
Now Nanak is revealed in glory throughout the world.
The Siri Guru Granth Sahib
Scripture and Only Guide and Guru of the Sikhs
Page 653 Guru Arjan
“Kamalla!” A Western academic confronts me, “North India is one of the most macho places on earth! Sikhi is male dominated from one end to the other.”
“Not Sikhi.” I argue. “Sikhs! Particularly those still living in India. There is hope for Sikhs in the West. The younger generation practices gender equality much better than the older folks.”
“Kamalla, they are losing their younger generation in the West and in India too.” my friend insists. “Hard as it is for you to believe, the fact that Sikhi is so progressive theologically didn’t matter. When we study Sikhs we have to study what they do, not just what they say they ought to be doing.”
“No. Wrong. What you say is true in some obvious Western sense, but I am a Sikh. Academics need to get it through your heads that what a Sikh is and what a Sikh is not is defined by our scripture and Only Guide, by the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. According to the Sikh Guru/scripture, those who practice gender inequality are not True Sikhs. They are phoney.”
“So the majority of Sikhs down through history and in present times are not really Sikhs? Is that what you are saying?”
“That is correct. They are all phoney Sikhs at the level that they do not follow Sikh teachings as set out in the Sikh scripture. But of course, only God and Guru can judge who is a good Sikh – Sikh just means ’student’ as you well know.” I retort and then add, “Sikhs don’t even believe that you have to be Sikh to be one of the Almighty’s best beloveds either. The Sikh Guru/scripture reminds readers all the time that good honest, loving and humble people everywhere, irregardless of beliefs or culture are better ‘Sikhs’ than people claiming to be Sikhs who fail to follow Sikh teachings.”
Sikhs will argue about all sorts of things but we almost unanimously, across all schisms and sects, agree that it is our scripture, our Holy Book – our Guruji – who defines what it is the be a True Sikh.
For our purposes here I will make a distinction between Sikhs and True Sikhs. True Sikhs follow the teachings of the Sikh Guru/scripture. Sikhs, on the other hand, are simply born into Sikh families.
WHO ARE THE SIKHS?
Here is a very brief history of Sikhi from the UNITED SIKHS website. UNITED SIKHS is a global Sikh charity organization.
Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji founded the Sikh way of life in the fifteenth century as an ideology to reconcile the Human Race. Guru Nanak was a revolutionary teacher- his teachings that women and men were equal, that caste was unimportant, and that there are many paths to the One God- were ahead of their time. The title “Guru,” or enlightener, was passed onwards to 9 more individuals throughout Sikh history, who shared the light of Truth of Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji. These 9 Gurus also shaped the legendary Sikh traditions. In 1708 CE, the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, bestowed the title of Guru upon the holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which is recognized as the eternal enlightener.
Some Sikh men and women join the Khalsa, the defense only Knighthood established by Guru Gobind Singh (the last embodied Sikh Guru/Teacher) in 1699. They are required to keep the five symbols of the five Khalsa vows on their bodies. The symbols are uncut hair (Kesh), a comb (Kanga) a dagger (Kirpan), a steel bracelet (Kara) and underwear (Kacheras). These symbols remind members of the Khalsa Khighthood of their vows, which include being clean, free of intoxicants, and vowing to fight oppression and abuse, racism, sexism, caste and classism, on behalf of the weak against corruption and tyranny. They must never attack. Again the Khalsa is a defense-only Knighthood. Khalsa men wear turbans and many Khalsa women wear turbans as well.
But only a fraction of all Sikhs join the Khalsa Knighthood.
Confusingly, quite a number of Sikhs, especially Sikh men, who do not belong to the Khalsa, also do not cut their hair and they wear turbans. This is often an indication that a Sikh is “practicing” being Khalsa and plans to take his/her vows in the future. Or often as not, Sikhs feel it is a good thing for Sikhs who have not joined the Khalsa to wear turbans and beards because it supports Sikh cultural identity, which many Sikhs feel is at risk.
The downside, of course, is that there are thousands and thousands of Sikhs who wear the “uniform” of the Khalsa Knighthood who are not keeping the Khalsa vows. For instance, it is common to witness Sikh men in turbans drinking alcohol in public or smoking cigarettes. This of course greatly errodes the effectiveness and harms the image and reputation of the Khalsa Knighthood worldwide.
There are 20 million people on earth who call themselves Sikhs. Yet like other religions, many or most Sikhs are secular. They come from Sikh families and visit Gurdwaras for weddings and funerals and as social centers, but they are not devout nor do they claim to be.
Since aborting female foetuses is strictly and heavily banned by the Sikh religion, the middle and professional class Sikhs in India who are choosing sons over daughters are secular Sikhs by definition.
SIKH SCHISMS AND SECTS
Sikhs have always considered themselves to be a separate and distinct religion from Hinduism. Yet from the point of view of most Hindus, Sikhi is just another sect of Hinduism. Hinduism is inclusive like that. Any and all beliefs and practices that have arisen in India are part of the whole brew and called Hinduism.
However, the founder of Sikhi, Guru Nanak, taught a Way that is quite distinct from both Islam and Hinduism, though he was affected deeply by both religions of course. In the West there is no dispute over whether Sikhs are distinct from Hindus. Sikhs are allowed to define themselves just like all the Western religions and sects do.
Approximately half of all Sikhs follow various “leaders” past or present – Sants, Babas, Yogis, Jathedars, Deras.
Another large percentage of Sikhs holds the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Book, as their one and only Guide and Guru. They do not believe in avatars and they wire direct, as individuals, with “Guruji”, their source of Sikh teachings. This second group, to which I belong, has at times been called “fundamentalists” by Western scholars because we take the SGGS as literal truth. But the SGGS is a very very different scripture from the Bible. There is no history or stories in the SGGS, rather it is the hymns/poetry/teachings of Nanak. Nanak’s approach to religion is distinctly not woo-woo and no faith in miracles is required in Sikhi.
The first and foremost belief of all Sikhs is that “The Creator and the Creation are One”. Sikhs seek to experience nondualistic perception, to experience and rejoice in the One Reality all around them. So called “fundamentalist” Sikhs are more like Humanists or scientically oriented agnostics than they are like Christians, Hindus, or Muslims.
A third large subset of all those who call themselves Sikhs promote the Dasam Granth – the writings of Guru Gobind Singh- as equal canon with the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.
From a Westerner’s perspective these three types of Sikhs are distinct enough in practice and theology to be considered different religions or sects.
For a detailed geneology of Sikh sects: http://philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/sikhism/index.html
For a very short time Sikhs had their own country in Northern India, and then the Brits invaded. The British fought a war against the Sikhs and won, but they fell in love with the Sikhs. Thus the British helped the Sikhs and they also hindered the Sikhs.
Sikh Central is presently in India but Sikhs in diaspora have no representation in the present (British established) Sikh religion administration. Some/many accuse Sikh Central of being infiltrated by nonSikhs or taking bribes, or corporate lobby money. Some/many disagree!
Gyani Jarnail Singh, a Sikh scholar from Malaysia explains:
Yes the SGPC – elected by the million or so eligible “SIKHS” (according to SRM – Sikh Code of Conduct) every five years according to the British Govt sponsored Gurdwara Act 1925..is a sort of Sikh Central.
Its authority is confined to old Punjab – now divided into Punjab/Himachal/Haryana. Efforts are underway to take away Haryana out of its spehre by forming a Haryana SGPC. Delhi already has a DGPC for Delhi gurdawras and the Patna Takhat as well as Hazoor Sahib Deccan are independently controlled by their states.
So not only are the few MILLION Disapora Sikhs not reprsented in the SGPC….so are a few million Sikhs in the rest of INDIA ( those outside Punajb/Haryana/himachal).
So in a way the Sikh Central is a very MINORITY sort of “Sikh central”…similar to if the few citizens of Vatican were to be Christian Central on behalf of the 1 billion or so christians…
The point to note is that the Govt of India holds the “Elections”… so it decides when and when… For example during the tenure of Jathedar GS Tohra…he was defacto President ( together with his assembly) for a total of FIVE TERMS..25 years ++ as the Govt decided to have NO ELECTIONS. Thus it is a Sikh Central over which the SIKHS have absolutley NO CONTROL. GS Tohra was kept in power for a quarter century….for reasons known/unknown ?? and the SIKHS coundnt do a damn thing about it.
Due to the SGPC being a “Financial Powerhouse” Goluck money from all historicl shrines runs into hundreds of millions yearly…anyone in control of it is in POWER. Inspite of the Indian govt using all sorts of “proxies”….newly set up Gurdwar Boards and such…the SGPC has traditionally been won by the Akali DAL…now the personal fiefdom of the BADAL Family/Dynasty…since the 1970’s !!
Thus when “POLITICS” rules the roost..invariably shady chraacters stand and win…through money laundering/vote buying/alcohol flows freely, hoodlums roam freely and drugs etc..every weapon in the arsenal is used to retain the status quo…95% of the SGPC members are TAINTED heavily. The one or two “religious” ones get voted out subsequently or turn over a “old” leaf and join the rascals.
SIKHS IN DIASPORA
Sikhs in diaspora also have no central unified means of governance or headquarters. Every Gurdwara is independent and control of Gurdwaras by one sect or another is common. Sikhs who follow various Sants and Babas or embrace the teachings of other leaders, and “fundamentalist” Sikhs, who hold the SGGS as our only Guru, often end up worshipping in the same Gurdwaras, as do the more militant Guru Gobind Singh followers. Add to this the generation gap caused by Sikh youth embracing Western culture, and it is not so surprising that Sikh Gurdwaras can at times become political, hot and heavy.
Harmander Singh from the Sikhs in England organization explains some of the problems Sikhs in diaspora have. He believes that the main issue is:
The elders’ die-hard attitude and desire in seeking answers from their peers in the Punjab to problems they face in the West,
1. Factionalism based on ‘Jathebandis’ , the anti-Sikh practices such as ‘caste’ based groupings, gender discrimination and taking advantage of the deference to age by those who are younger than them.
2. The abject failure in accepting that age alone does not qualify one to be a ‘leader’ but it only helps if some wisdom was gained along the way in getting to their age. It is assumed that competency is automatic and only comes with age. The fact that many who hold positions of ‘power’ within the Sikh community somehow are unable to divorce their personal ego nurturing actions from the responsibility that comes with the positions they hold. As a result, when something good has happened, people who were once thought to be dead suddenly come out of nowhere for the photo opportunity but are nowhere to be seen when things are not so good or very bad – in such instances, it is always someone else’s fault and communication skills are suddenly ‘missing’ – an opportunity lost in promoting links with the media.
A PREFERENCE FOR SONS
As shocking and also self defeating as it is, the reasons Sikhs abort female foetusses is that they want to have sons. It is greed in some sense.
Despite Sikh teachings, Sikhi worldwide is tremendously male dominated. In India sons are thought to be breadwinners while daughters are expensive. Births of sons are celebrated and births of daughters are often greeted with regrets, condolences and silence. In the traditional India family, when a daughter marries she moves into her husband’s family home, under the direction of her mother-in-law. One day, if you have a son, he will marry and his new wife will be under you. This is the height of woman’s power. Being a mother and ultimately the family matriarch is what life offers to women in traditional India families.
The United Nations website on Women and Violence reports::
Son preference affects women in many countries, particularly in Asia. Its consequences can be anything from foetal or female infanticide to neglect of the girl child over her brother in terms of such essential needs as nutrition, basic health care and education.
In China and India, some women choose to terminate their pregnancies when expecting daughters but carry their pregnancies to term when expecting sons.
According to reports from India, genetic testing for sex selection has become a booming business, especially in the country’s northern regions. Indian gender-detection clinics drew protests from women’s groups after the appearance of advertisements suggesting that it was better to spend $38 now to terminate a female foetus than $3,800 later on her dowry.
A study of amniocentesis procedures conducted in a large Bombay hospital found that 95.5 per cent of foetuses identified as female were aborted, compared with a far smaller percentage of male foetuses.
The problem of son preference is present in many other countries as well. Asked how many children he had fathered, the former United States boxing champion Muhammad Ali told an interviewer: “One boy and seven mistakes.”
Though it is only Sikhs in India who are engaged in widespread abortion of female foetuses, studies in the UK also indicate that UK Sikhs prefer sons and that is that.
From: Demography of immigrants and minority groups in the United Kingdom. London, England, Academic Press, 1982. :169-92.
The data were obtained in a questionaire survey of about 3000 married Asian Sikh women, living in West London. The main reason for the study was to find out whether Asian immigrants had any difficulties in adopting modern methods of birth control. Another reason was an interest in the nature of cultural influences on fertility and birth control practice. Sikhs were chosen because they were the largest of the Indian religious groups in Britain according to a national survey in 1974. The ideal family size for most Sikhs was 2 or 3, and they resembled the general population in the practice of birth control. Most survey respondents maintained their family size by modern methods of birth control, which were adopted early in marriage. Whatever methods used, they seemed to be effective, since fertility among Sikhs and other Asians is declining. Where Sikhs do differ from the general population is in their very strong preference for sons (84%). Some of the evidence on achieved fertility, contraceptive practice, and reasons for having or not having a 3rd child suggests a stronger bias towards a family of 2 children than is revealed by the preference scores. The Sikhs emphatic preference for sons may prompt some parents to produce at least 1 more child than they would have otherwise had.
I asked Harmander Singh from Sikhs in England for his thoughts on male domination within Sikhi:
An instrumental element of succession of goods/assets in the laws of many countries, where the West has had or continues to have an influence, is along male heirs. Sikhs, as opposed to Sikhi, have fallen prey to these prevalent legal precedences.
The ‘little prince’ syndrome is also linked to the difference of treatment between the genders.
Paradoxically, younger generations are driven away from all religions by the continued outdated and inconsistent application of sexist values – sadly this also has had an influence on the Sikh community which is run by ‘politically’ motivated and backed (mis)leaders. The ultimate effect will be the devaluing of the faith by those who are meant to be preserving it.
The balance of Miri-Piri has swung too far towards Miri under the invisible hand of the anti-Panthic elements. (Sikhi teaches that the mundane or temporal plane – Miri – and the spiritual plane – Piri – are One and need to work together)
Although there is the Christian ethos of ‘blame the sin, not the sinner’ , I feel that time has come to stop the rot, and to blame the sinners too for they should know better and pay for their sins – driving these hypocrites away from positions of power should be the start of the clean up process.
SIKH WOMEN’S RESPONSE
Lacking any direct political way for Sikhs to stop the abortion of Sikh baby girls in India Sikh women activists use the internet. They attempt to use the dogma of the Sikh religion to convert fellow Sikhs away from its male dominated worldview.
“Our Gurus did their utmost to make Sikh women equal partners. Guru Amar Das Ji sent out Sikh women to spread Sikhi. Alas, we have lost trace of those women. The worst situation now is that some of the Sikh women have lost their right to accept Will of the Creator when they are forced to abort female fetuses. The Sikh women need to come forward and express themselves as they did in our Guru’s days and become mentors to the Global women.”
Satnam Kaur, politician, London UK
From Sikh Women.com website:
Sikhism is unique in recognizing unequivocal equality for all human beings and specifically for both men and women. Among equality of all human beings, fundamental aspects of Sikh theology include implicit gender equality and independence for women. The spiritual beliefs of Sikhism (revealed to Guru Nanak in 1469) propose social reform of women’s roles in society. Sikhism advocates active and equal participation in congregation, academics, healthcare, military among other aspects of society. Female subordination, the practice of taking father’s or husband’s last name, practicing rituals that imply dependence or subordination are all alien to the Sikh principles. The universal principles of Sikhism and the spiritual beliefs are to be practiced daily and incorporated in day to day living.
Ideally, if each of us truly incorporated the Guru’s teachings in our daily lives, this would be a perfect world to live in. There would be no bickering over dowry, there would be less excuses to perpetuate violence. Equality of Women in Sikh Ideology and Practice would render moot the issues such as, “What Rights do Sikh Women Have? or What is a Women’s Identity?
The Guru’s defended our freedom and taught us to live free of bondage and tyranny. If Guru Nanak or Guru Gobind Singh were living amongst us, they would be terribly disappointed. Although some outdated traditions are still practiced, they are certainly not a reflection of Sikhi in our lives.
Sikhism equal rights extend to all beings. Acceptance and incorporation of those with special Needs, the disadvantaged, the poor or those without a gender designation are no exception to the rule.
From the Sikhs.org website:
At the time of the Gurus women were considered very low in society. Both Hindus and Muslims regarded women as inferior and a man’s property. Women were treated as mere property whose only value was as a servant or for entertainment. They were considered seducers and distractions from man’s spiritual path. Men were allowed polygamy but widows were not allowed to remarry but encouraged to burn themselves on their husbands funeral pyre (sati). Child marriage and female infanticide were prevalent and purdah (veils) were popular for women. Women were also not allowed to inherit any property. Many Hindu women were captured and sold as slaves in foreign Islamic countries.
In such a climate Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism shocked the entire society by preaching that women were worthy of praise and equal to men. Five hundred years later, the rest of mankind is only now waking up to this fundamental truth. The Gurus actively encouraged the participation of women as equals in worship, in society, and on the battlefield. They encouraged freedom of speech and women were allowed to participate in any and all religious activities including reading of the Guru Granth Sahib.
WILL SIKHS CONVERT TO SIKHI?
It is both sad and fascinating to watch and hope that Sikhs will be able to convert fellow Sikhs to Sikhi. Still, Sikh men appear much more concerned about the schisms within Sikhi and the politics in India than about fighting for women’s rights. Sikh men, even the “fundamentalist” ones, have not risen up or bankrolled Sikh women’s efforts to establish Sikh gender equality in Sikh families, communities and Gurdwaras. Sikh women activists have few male allies.
On the other hand Sikh women are welcomed into the Khalsa Knighthood and more and more young Sikh women are becoming Khalsa. Khalsa women are theologically encouraged to be leaders who can initiate others into the Khalsa as well, yet no woman in truth has ever done so (except in a couple Sant/Baba groups).
Meanwhile, the Indian government has outlawed the use of technology to discern the gender of unborn children. Here is a PBS video about the gendercide problem in India.
Karabin Sherry. “Infanticide, Abortion Responsible for 60 Million Girls Missing in Asia.” Fox News.June 2007 http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,281722,00.html
“About Sikhs.” UNITED SIKHS. http://www.unitedsikhs.org/aboutsikhs.php
Singh, Jarnail “Quick Guide To Sikh Politics” Soulbride’s Kitchen https://kamallarosekaur.wordpress.com/2007/12/27/sikh-politics/
Singh, Harmander, “State of Sikh Relations” Soulbride’s Kitchen https://kamallarosekaur.wordpress.com/2008/03/08/harmander-singhs-state-of-union-address/
“Women and Violence” United Nations Department of Public Information February 1996
Coleman, D, ed. Demography of immigrants and minority groups in the United Kingdom. London, England, Academic Press, 1982. :169-92.
Singh, Vishavjit. Sikhtoons.com http://www.sikhtoons.com
“Equality”. Sikh Women.Com
“Women in Sikhi” The Sikhism Homepage