Category Archives: Inspiring

Sikh Women Gain Voting Rights at Bristol Gurdwara

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa Wahe Guru Ji Fateh
This is a great story that I really enjoyed writing up, now published in The Sikh Times.
Sikh Women Gain Voting Rights at Bristol Gurdwara

By KAMALLA ROSE KAUR

The Sikh Times, Aug. 31, 2008


Photo: Bristol Gurdwara

Come join with me, my sisters,
And sing songs of joy and delight.
My true friends have arrived in my home!
–Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scripture), p. 764

The Sikh religion preaches and promotes equal rights for women. Female subordination, the practice of taking a father’s or a husband’s last name, practicing rituals that imply dependence are all alien to Sikh principles. Yet in the last 400 years, most Sikh institutions have been run by Sikh men. In the West, it is often elderly men whose concerns and politics are back in India.
–Walayti Singh Chauhan, current President of the Bristol Gurdwara

Background

On October 14 2007, the management committee of the Sikh gurdwara (temple) at Fishponds Road, Bristol, U.K. voted seven to one for women’s suffrage. The lone opposing vote was cast by the then General Secretary Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti.

In the following weeks and months no confirmation of the historic reform was announced to the Sikh sangat (congregation). In response to this silence, several Sikh women met with the Gurdwara President Walayti Singh Chauhan. He agreed that the decision would be announced and confirmed in a letter to the Sikh community.

‘Walayti Singh took the brave step and put the committee’s agreement of October 2007 onto paper, knowing that he may face resentment.’ Gurdip Kaur, a member and women’s rights activist in her 60s, said, ‘He is responsible for ensuring that the basic tenets of Sikhi (Sikhism) were enforced; to treat all humankind as equals. He stood up for what is right.’

Sikh women from Bristol have been demanding their right to vote in gurdwara elections for decades. According to Gurdip Kaur, ‘Over seventy-five letters were sent to gurdwara committees over the last twenty-five years regarding total equality for Sikh women. These letters have all been disregarded.’

Conflict

President Walayti Singh also supported the women’s plans to celebrate their success at an upcoming event. Six female Sikh speakers were contacted and several notable non-Sikhs were asked to speak including Dave Chapple, the national chair of the U.K. National Shop Stewards Network.

However, General Secretary Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti refused to allow more than two women speakers and would not approve any non-Sikh speakers.

The president and the women activists complied with the general secretary’s wishes and only two Sikh women spoke on Sunday, May 4. The outside speakers were cancelled. The activists felt that the most important part was that Sikh women had gotten the vote.

After the women spoke, General Secretary Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti took to the podium and strongly urged against women’s suffrage. He did not acknowledge that the management committee had already approved the reform.

From the perspective of the congregation, the general secretary stood on the right side of the podium and the president stood on the left. While General Secretary Mohinderjit Singh was attempting to persuade the congregation to reverse the women’s victory, Gurudip Kaur approached President Walayti Singh and asked if she might speak. He agreed and she was handed the microphone when he concluded his own speech. Seeing this, the general secretary crossed the podium and took the microphone from Gurudip Kaur despite her resistance. The following uproar resulted in a ten-minute shouting match.

Javinder Singh, who would soon be elected the new general secretary of the committee, noted, ‘Seeing an insult against an elderly woman of this sort was unbelievable; this act was totally deplorable and extremely sad.’

In response to this incident, President Walayti Singh Chauhan suspended Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti from the role of general secretary, asking him to return gurdwara documents in his possession until the incident could be investigated. The gurdwara election, scheduled for May 11, 2008, was postponed so that women members had time to register to vote and to let things cool down.

But in the days after the incident Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti failed to return the gurdwara documents. After three formal requests, legal counsel was sought by President Walayti Singh and legal proceedings were launched to retrieve the documents. The documents contained minutes of committee meetings and records of decisions made.

Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti ceased attending gurdwara services and so did the vice president and vice treasurer of the committee. His backers now included three out of the eight members of the gurdwara’s management committee, although they had originally voted for women’s suffrage in October 2007.

Mediation

Seeking a quick election before the women could register, Mohinderjit Singh’s group went to the Bristol police. They explained that Walayti Singh’s term as gurdwara president was already up and they felt he had no right to postpone the election. The police agreed to mediate the dispute using five representatives from each side. Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s side was composed of older men, all born in the Punjab. The women’s suffrage group included a wide range of ages, with both sexes represented, four born in the U.K. and one in India. They met with the police once.

Over two weeks, plus a few extra days’ extension, Sikh women registered. By the end of this period, 170 Sikh women were ready to vote. With suffrage established, three women, Narindar Kaur, Anita Kaur and Sheila Kaur, pursued management committee positions. They became part of the pro-suffrage team, with Walayti Singh Chauhan running for another term as gurdwara president.

On election day, Sikh voters would cast only one vote, choosing one management committee team or the other. Although Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti was not on the ballot, his brother ran for the position of general secretary. On the other side, Walayti Singh’s team offered the Sikh community a revolutionary new committee with men and women, and adults of all ages.

The pro-women’s-suffrage slate was comprised of Walayti Singh Chauhan (president), Shamsher Singh Patel (vice president), Javinder Singh (general secretary), Satchet Singh (vice general secretary), Kuldip Singh (treasurer), Narindar Kaur (vice treasurer), Anita Kaur (langar jathedar), and Sheila Kaur (vice langar jathedar).

The anti-women’s-suffrage slate was comprised of Raghir Singh Nirman (president), Baldev Singh (vice president), Mohanjit Singh Bhatti (general secretary), Jaswant Singh (vice general secretary), Mohan Singh (treasurer), Satnam Singh Amritsaria (vice treasurer), Harpal Singh (langar jathedar), and Raju Singh (vice langar jathedar).

Mohinderjit Singh hired an attorney and requested that the attorney be allowed to be present during the negotiations. When the police firmly declined this request, Mohinderjit Singh’s group decided to stop attending the meetings. Instead, they informed the police that the election would be held on July 6, 2008. They added that they were hiring a private security firm to keep the peace on election day.

However, Bhatti’s team did not inform the Sikh congregation adequately about the election. Many Sikhs worshiping that Sunday did not know that it was an election day.

Fearing an outbreak in violence the Bristol police interceded and dismissed the hired security guards. They insisted that proper voting procedures be in place prior to the election. They asked for two members from each side to meet with them immediately. Over the next few weeks the two sides successfully negotiated the details of the upcoming election and signed a contract.

Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s side was asked by the police to stop sending out letters to the sangat, as this was confusing the members. It was agreed that an independent voting company should be brought in. The Association of Electoral Administrators agreed to conduct the election. Voting registration was again extended to allow the traditionally-minded Sikh women, who do not believe in their right to vote, to register to vote. The voting company insisted that the registration be complete a week before the election and that the final voting list be just that, the final voting list.

For the next two weeks Sikh women were encouraged to register to vote and on the last day they extended the registration by a few hours so that the latecomers standing in line could finish registering.

Yet on July 27, 2008, two days after registration had closed and the voting list had been finalized, Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s team insisted that they had seventy-nine more women they needed to register. The voting company refused, citing the contracts in place.

‘The anti-women’s-suffrage side were in fear that their power would be cut off forever. So they were doing everything possible to win,’ Javinder Singh, the new general secretary, commented. ‘They knew if they lost it would be the end for their sort.’

Election Day

On Sunday morning, August 3, 2008, many Sikhs from both sides arrived at the gurdwara at 8 A.M. Voting would begin at 10 A.M. Tensions were running high. The seventy-nine Sikh women who had not made the registration deadline – women who were angry that they were denied their right to vote against their right to vote – were vocal. The police blockaded the street and the media arrived. One Sikh man was arrested but later released. Some of the seventy-nine women and their supporters surrounded the voting company manager’s car in protest.

‘The Association of Electoral Administrators was very patient during the negotiation leading up to the elections,’ reported Javinder Singh. ‘They were understanding, firm and fair throughout the election process. They ensured the elections were conducted independently and professionally.’

Fifteen minutes before the election was due to start the police called a meeting of both sides, which delayed the election for two hours. The pro-women’s-suffrage side offered to let 80% of the unregistered women register and the voting company agreed. This offer was angrily dismissed and Mohinderjit Singh and his supporters boycotted the election.

The election, although delayed, went forward. 93% of the votes went to the pro-women’s-suffrage team with Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s side receiving only 4% of the vote. Seemingly, even if the anti-women’s-suffrage side had voted – including all seventy-nine late registering Sikh women – Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s side would have lost.

‘We commend the Avon & Somerset police for their understanding of the situation that we found ourselves in,’ said newly-re-elected President Walayti Singh Chauhan. ‘It was a great job done. They were sensitive and respectful of the Sikh principles at all times.’

Javinder Singh, the new general secretary added, ‘When the women bowed to our holy Sikh scripture (Guru Granth Sahib), our Guruji, to accept their official duties, they glowed with a happiness and joy that seemed almost transcendent to me. I realized I had never seen that look on the faces of those Sikh women before and that made me determined to keep fighting for the rights of Sikh sisters and women everywhere.’

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Clinging to the Naam

The Sikh scripture (which is every Sikh’s only Guide and Guru), the Siri Guru Granth, has one main tip to convey to humanity.

“Practice the Naam!” the Sri Guru Granth instructs.

That is all there is too it! Simply drop everything else and focus all your attention on the Naam!

Yet what does that mean?

Literally the “Naam” means “God’s Name” or “God’s Identity”.

“God’s Reality” might be another way of understanding the meaning of the Naam.

Practicing the Naam is being constantly aware that Beloved One is really real. God exists and cares, and God is watching, and God is participating in your life. The Beloved is your audience. The Beloved knows your every thought and feeling and intention. You cannot hide anything from God. God knows the truth. In fact God IS the truth- Sat Naam! Everything else is just fibs and lies and false claims and con jobs.

You are also Creator/Creation’s audience, when God blesses you with the ability to see God everywhere, in everything. Attempting to see the Infinite One everywhere in everything is practicing the Naam. The Naam is experiencing each and every situation, day to day, moment to moment, as coming directly from God; in the form of blessings and lessons and challenges.

The Siri Guru Granth instructs us to gear our lives towards pleasing the Supreme so that in our last moments here in these bodies this life (when our life stories flash before our eyes) God and our souls will be happy with the movie we witness.

Now the Naam is also, in a more mundane sense, the act of repeating and invoking God’s Name like a mantra. Sikhs use “waheguru, waheguru….” , Christians call on the Name of Jesus.

Repeating the Naam, invoking God’s Name, calling on the Divine, moment to moment, is a technique and a meditation that we can use that helps us practice constant awareness of the Beloved.

The Sikh scripture and teacher also instructs the faithful to get together with other humble God-consecrated people and sing hymns, and share God’s Praises! The Sikh Guru does not care what religion these sisters and brothers practice, as long as they are eager to taste the Naam with us!

The Sikh Guru explains:

Devotees everywhere worship God in loving adoration. They thirst for the True One, with infinite affection. They beg and implore God; in love and affection. True devotee’s consciousness is at peace.

Chant the Naam and take to God’s Sanctuary. The Naam is the boat to cross over the world-ocean. Practice such a way of life.

(Pause and contemplate these teachings)

O my mind, even death wishes you well when you remember God through the Word of the True Teachings. My intellect receives the treasure, the knowledge of reality and supreme bliss, by repeating the Naam with my mind.

Our fickle consciousness wanders around chasing after wealth; it is intoxicated with worldly love and emotional attachment. Yet devotion to the Naam is permanently implanted within the mind, when it is attuned to the True Universal Teachings, the Shabad (the Word).
By wandering around, doubt is not dispelled. Afflicted by reincarnation, this world is being ruined. But God’s eternal throne is free of this affliction. You are truly wise when you take the Naam as your meditation.

This world is engrossed in attachment and transitory love; it suffers the terrible pains of birth and death. Run to the Sanctuary of the True Teacher; chant the Naam in your heart, and you shall swim across.

Following the True Universal Teachings, the mind becomes stable – the mind accepts, and reflects, in peaceful poise.

That mind is pure which enshrines Truth within – the jewel of spiritual wisdom.
By the Fear of God, and the Love of God; by devotion, we cross over the terrifying world-ocean, focusing our consciousness on the God’s Lotus Feet.

The Naam, the most pure and sacred, is within my heart. My body is Your Sanctuary, God.
The waves of greed and avarice are calmed within me when I treasure the Naam. Please subdue my restless mind, O Pure Immaculate One. Says Nanak, I have entered Your Sanctuary.

SGGS page 505

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Why God Is Often a ‘She’ by Elizabeth Johnson

Theologically Sikhi is so far ahead of Christianity when it comes to teaching that Creator/Creation, the All-That-Is, includes female and male and everything else.

Meanwhile Christians are so far ahead of Sikhs in actually practicing gender equality and dropping the feudal, crazy, scary, authoritarian use of He, Him, King, Lord, Highest Lord, Lordy Lord Lord when speaking about the Beloved One. Wonder if there is a Khalsa Knight, or other Sikh, brave enough to call God “She” – outloud in public and inside -for a mere 6 months and report back to us what they experience? I rather doubt it.

Why God Is Often a ‘She’
The Scriptures abound with female imagery for the Deity. There’s no reason we can’t use it ourselves when thinking about God
Elizabeth A. Johnson, SCJ

Excerpted from Commonweal Magazine.

Today, both women and men are questioning our reliance on male language for God. They are rediscovering female imagery for the divine long hidden in Scripture and tradition. Feminist artists, poets, composers, and theologians are fashioning new images for God out of women’s experience. Language about God is expanding gender-wise, even to the point of referring to the divine mystery as “She.” I believe that there is a strong theological argument in favor of such language.

Numerous biblical texts offer potent female images of God. God as childbearer: giving birth, midwifing, nursing, and holding an infant. God as an angry mother bear robbed of her cubs. God as homemaker: knitting, baking, washing up, searching for her money. God as the female figure of Wisdom: creating, ordering, and saving the world.

In fact, the personification of God as Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs and elsewhere provides one of the earliest interpretive frameworks for Christology. Jesus is even called the Wisdom of God in the New Testament. Furthermore, the spirit is often presented in female metaphors.

For some literal-minded believers, however, the we are not free to expand our God-language in this way. They argue that Jesus himself spoke to and about God as father (abba) and that He taught His disciples to do likewise. Such an argument sets its sights too narrowly. Jesus’ language about God, far from being gender-exclusive, is diverse and colorful in its reference to the sexes, as can be seen in the imaginative parables He created: the woman searching for her lost coin (female), the shepherd looking for his lost sheep (male), the baker kneading her dough (female), the traveling businessman (male), the employer offending some his workers by his generosity to others (male). Jesus used these and many other human and cosmic metaphors (such as blowing wind), in addition to the good and loving things that fathers do.

A final argument for using female symbols for God arises from the practical effects of God-language on the church. Imagery for God helps us understand the world. The way a faith community talks about God indicates what it considers the highest good, the profoundest truth. This language, in turn, molds the community’s behavior, as well as its members’ self-understanding.

The fact that Christians ordinarily speak about God in the image of a male ruler is problematic. For feminist theology, the difficulty does not lie with the male metaphors. Men as well as women are created in the image of God. The problem lies in the fact that the specific male images reflect a patriarchal arrangement of the world, casting God into the mold of an omnipotent, even if benevolent, monarch. God’s maternal relation to the world is eclipsed.

Incorporating female-centered divine images reverses this. She is the giver of life who pervades the cosmos like a mother bird hovering over the primordial chaos (Genesis 1:2). She shelters those in difficulty under Her wings (Psalm 17:8) and bears up the enslaved on Her great wings toward freedom (Exodus 19:4). Like a mother, She knits new life together in the womb (Psalm 139:13); like a midwife, She works deftly to bring about the new creation (Psalm. 22:9-10); like a washerwoman, She scrubs away bloody stains of sin (Psalm. 51:7). These and other such symbols invoke the exuberant, life-giving power of women.

Such symbols are but modest starting points for a more inclusive God-talk. Developing these symbols today is a theologically central task for the whole church. But the living God and the vitality of the faith community require that a more inclusive way of speaking about divine mystery be developed. God reimagined in female terms can breathe new life into religious language and symbols that bear the ancient responsibility of conveying what is most holy, loving, merciful, just, and wise.

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Canadian Girl Speaks at the United Nations

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Happy Together

This concert happened on the border between Finland and Russia, it was a celebration of the end of the long Cold War. It was put on by the Finnish joke rock group, The Lenigrad Cowboys featuring the ol’ Red Russian Army Choir. See all the people!

Notice that they are singing, in English, the classic USA Boomer’s anthem: Happy Together!

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Electric Guitar Prayer

Reflecting my cultural background and my generation within my cultural background, my favorite musical instrument is the electric guitar. I love all the sounds it can make – well not all of them actually…but the electric guitar offers a great range of depths and heights, and oceans, forests and streams, in between, to modern world musicians.

I do not actually care much for harmoniums which are often used in Sikh Kirtan – much prefer electronic keyboards where excellent Ragis can design the sound of each note if they wish. The harmonium is a colonial thing. A wheezy little organ thing.

Now tablas on the other hand……wow. wow guru.

Here is one of my favorite electric guitar pieces performed by a young Larry Carlton. It was obviously filmed as the final number of as televised concert, so credits roll at the end, and they even cut off the last few notes of the song!

Still it is an excellent example of praying with music, I feel – called “Emotions Wound Us So”.

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Our Gardens Spring 08

Tulips and Bluebells

Apple Blossoms

The Community Garden – time to get to work!

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