Category Archives: Multicultural

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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Filed under Fighting Authoritarian Groups, Inspiring, Kamalla Rose Kaur's Writings, Multicultural, Sikh Women's Movement, Sikhi

Aborting Sikhi by Kamalla Rose Kaur

(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.)

ABORTING SIKHI

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

SIKH CENTRAL

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,

Also:

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
http://www.un.org/rights/dpi1772e.htm

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
http://www.sikhwomen.com/equality/index.htm

“Women in Sikhi” The Sikhism Homepage
http://www.sikhs.org/women.htm

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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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Funny Ad. Set In India

I really enjoyed this advertisement set in Hindu India.

(Note: Sikh women have no marks applied to their foreheads and all Sikhs wear a single steel bracelet called a “Kara”.)

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