Kirtan by Sikh Women in Darbar Sahib is our indisputable right

I challenge each one of these objections, drawing reference from Sikh doctrine and history.

Gender equality is a big issue in the 21st century. Women are demanding 'rights', which are 'equal' to men. Religion, which has traditionally been dominated by men, is also not immune to the new-found awareness among women. For long, women have been subjugated because of 'God's word' and now they are no longer buying this story! In Sikh religion, the assertion for equality is finding voice on the issue of Sikh women not being allowed to perform kirtan in Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple). Live telecast of kirtan worldwide calls attention to lack of women participation.

The traditional objections are: women are unclean; there is no precedent in maryada; why touch an issue if it generates so much heat; women should stay off this most sacred place.

I challenge each one of these objections, 
drawing reference from Sikh doctrine and history.

Sikhism defines man-woman on physical and spiritual level, the co-existence of temporal and the spiritual. On a physical level, men and women are different with different biological and social role. Nature prepares woman for procreation by onset of menstruation in puberty. Menstruation prepares the womb for motherhood, why is it unclean? Each day men (and women) produce, store and then excrete faeces and urine, doesn't it make the body unclean? It is a paradox that motherhood is elevated to sainthood and the body preparing for motherhood is reviled as impure. Gurbani inspires a person to develop feminine qualities for one's spiritual evolution.

On the spiritual level Sikhi does not differentiate between male and female form. A visiting Christian priest from UK once asked me how did Sikhs justify gender equality when God was spoken to as a male and not a female? I quoted from Gurbani where it refers to God as 'male' and His creation as 'female' irrespective of their gender.

Spiritually 'man' is also God's 'wife', so there is no problem in referring to God as male. He was amazed by this simple explanation. Spiritual equality is manifest in the creation of Khalsa, which is genderless. Sikh men and women have to follow the same do's and don'ts. The very basics of Sikhi - Sewa and Simran - are not gender specific.

Within the precincts of Harmandar Sahib, sewa (washing the prakash-sthan area) and simran (kirtan) both are not allowed to Sikh women. Since kirtan from Darbar Sahib* is telecast world-wide, it has become an issue for Sikh women from outside India too.

The nay-sayers also say women are not stopped from performing kirtan or doing any other sewa in any Gurdwara, only one place - Darbar Sahib should continue to remain out of bound for women raagis. My question is why?

Guru Amar Das ji, the third Guru, constituted "Manji" system, which were learning centers in different parts of the country. Out of 22 Manjis, women held four in the early 16th century. No spiritual responsibility was considered taboo for women.

People who talk of maryada should remember Darbar Sahib has a very violent history. It was targeted and destroyed by invaders many times (three times between 1757-1764 ), to crush the Sikh spirit. Guru Teg Bahadur ji, the ninth Guru, was not allowed to enter Darbar Sahib by the pujaris. In the late 19th century, mahants looking after Darbar Sahib and their goons had vitiated the atmosphere so much that it was unsafe for women to even visit Darbar Sahib.

Later when things improved, women would come to pray and sit on the first floor to listen to kirtan. Slowly they started sitting on the ground floor. Now there is a small spot which is 'only for men' on the ground floor, a remnant of the mahant era. The SGPC strictly sticks to this unsaid code. I take vicious pleasure in flouting this rule wherever opportunity arises!

Earlier, girls used to get married off before the age of 16 years; there were no women who were trained in gurmat sangeet and kirtan maryada of Darbar Sahib, now there are. It's time to take guidance from the Sikh doctrine and invite women to perform kirtan at Darbar Sahib. -- Source.

Bibi Kiranjot Kaur

Former General Secretary, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)

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