Women in Sikhi

Women were total subordinates in Vedic India. There had the status of sudras, considered unable, impure and not legible for listening to the sacred texts, receiving any religious instruction or initiation. Muslim women were kept under the pardah, the veil, and in zananah, confined in interior apartments.

The dowry system, the paying of a substantial sum of money in goods and/or in kind upon marriage of a daughter, as well as other factors, led to practice of female infanticide and child marriage.

A widow’s state was pitiable. Polygamy was allowed for men; however, a woman was not able to remarry after the death of her husband. The widow was expected to commit sati, by throwing herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. If a concession was made and the widow was allowed to live on, being expectant or having infant children, for example, she was ostracized from society.

Guru Nanak liberated women and society. He affirmed the dignity of the human being, female and male. In Asa Ji Di Vaar, a long composition sung in sangat in the morning service. “Of woman are we born, of woman conceived; to woman engaged, to woman married. Women are befriended, by woman is the civilization continued. When woman dies, woman is sought for. It is by woman that the entire social order is maintained. Then why call her evil of whom are great men born?”

Guru Nanak recommended grishti, the life of a householder, wherein husband and wife are equal partners, fidelity advised for both. Married life is considered a metaphor for the expression of love for the Divine. Bhai Gurdas, a poet of early Sikhism and pays great tribute to womankind. “A woman,” he says (Varan, V.16), “is the favourite in her parental home loved dearly by her father and mother. In the home of her in-laws, she is the pillar of the family, the guarantee of its good fortune. . . Sharing in spiritual wisdom and enlightenment and with noble qualities endowed, a woman, the other half of man, escorts him to the door of liberation.”

The Gurus were equal in terms of instruction, initiation and participation of men and women in the sangat, the congregation and pangat, sitting in line to eat langer (blessed food). Guru Amar Das rejected the use of veil by women. He ensured that women had the responsibility of managing communities of disciples in many parts of India, and preached against the sati. Female infanticide is prohibited for Sikhs.

Singhs have never been known to rape another army’s womenfolk. This diabolical practice of raping the defeated side’s womenfolk has been practised throughout history and is still something practised throughout the killing fields of Africa, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

Bhai Gurdas stated: “A Sikh casting his eyes upon the womenfolk of families other than his own regards them as his mothers, sisters and daughters.”

Sikh history records numerous Sikh women, such as, Bebe Nanaki, Mata Sulakni, Mata Khivi, Bibi Amro, Bibi Bhani, Bibi Rajni, Mata Gujri, Mai Bhago, the women and children martyrs at Mir Mannu’s jail, Mata Sundari, Rani Sada Kaur and Maharani Jind Kaur who played a leading role in the events of their time.