Monday, June 25, 2018

Respect for Women

I thought of writing this post after I got a disrespectful message from a Punjabi guy on social media (different time from my example in the internet safety post). Of course this has happened countless times, but there was something particularly different about this message that it struck a cord for me and I needed to speak about this topic. I know I am not alone in this as many people have come forward to tell me their similar stories. It can be very hurtful, and as an Aunty Ji mentioned, fearful for younger ladies who don’t know how to respond. Our Punjabi and Bollywood media also incorrectly show that harassing a woman until she gives in to marrying you is love. There is usually also a scene where the hero beats up another so called “evil” guy for bothering his sister, when the hero does the exact same thing to the heroine and its considered fine. This felt like the right time, then, to talk about what respecting women actually means and how we can show it. 

When the Guru Jis saw something wrong happening, they taught people through singing Gurbani. I don’t want to want issues to become a spiral of negativity, where instead of focusing on solutions we focus continually on more examples of the problem. Blame and anger doesn't get us very far- they cut off all future conversations and ability to fix the problem. Passing on education about Sikh teachings gives us a way to move to a solution. As we bring these topics of conversation into our families and relationships, we can change our thoughts and behaviors and focus on prevention of inequality and respect for all. Prevention beforehand is always better than enforcement when its too late.  

In order to understand why what Sikhism introduced is so important, we need to understand what the life of a woman in India was like prior to Guru Nanak Dev Ji. I thought the simplest way for us to see the dramatic difference under Sikhi was making a table. So here is my homemade table, made with the help of the research I did from the references at the bottom. 
Life of women prior to Sikhi
Women are inferior and given status of low caste sudra, husband has rights over woman
Women are equal, have their own rights including property rights. Allowed to keep last name Kaur if she doesn’t want to take man’s last name
Position is in the home only. 
Take on political roles, warriors, sewadaars and missionaries 
Not allowed to read religious texts or attain spiritual salvation. 
Women are allowed to read prayers, be a Granthi, sit in sangat, and do anything a man can spiritually. The gender is just a costume. Women can attain Jeevan mukhti. God is genderless. All humans are mentioned in Gurbani as a “soul bride” to the “husband Lord.”
Not allowed to get an education
Women learn Gurmukhi and get an education 
Dowry, sati (burning herself in the fire at husband’s cremation), female infanticide are carried out 
All these are removed
Restricted activities due to menstruation, seen as polluted after childbirth 
Respect for female body and ability to carry a child. Guru Ji discusses impurity in extent on Ang 472, explaining “If one accepts the concept of impurity, then there is impurity everywhere.” Talking specifically about periods, Guru Ji explains that the impurity of the MIND must be washed with spirituality.  
Pardah and separate female living quarters (Muslim women) 
Women live with their families. Removing pardah puts onus on men to control their minds, not women’s looks. 5 K’s give dress code to both men and women. 
Raped by soldiers when they are captured in battle. Some women are not accepted back into their homes after kidnapping or sexual assault due to stigma.  
Sikh soldiers ensured the safe return of the women on the side they were battling against. Many Muslim writers have talked about the respect the Sikhs showed their women. Hindus and Muslims often came to Sikhs to bring back their daughters that had been kidnapped. Women Sikh soldiers also went to rescue other women. 
Women are temptation to man and barrier to his spiritual pursuit. Priests, pandits and monks practice celibacy to attain spiritual salvation 
Life of a householder (grist marag) is emphasized. Men and women live together to travel their spiritual journey together while still having a sexual relationship, removing the idea that women are evil/sinful and tempting men away from their spiritual path. Bhai Gurdas Ji writes in Vaar 5 Pauri 16, “From a temporal and spiritual point of view, woman is half man’s body and assists to the door of deliverance. She assuredly brings happiness to the virtuous.” ਲੋਕ ਵੇਦ ਗੁਣੁ ਗਿਆਨ ਵਿਚਿ ਅਰਧ ਸਰੀਰੀ ਮੋਖ ਦੁਆਰੀ।  ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸੁਖ ਫਲ ਨਿਹਚਉ ਨਾਰੀ 

From the above table I am so impressed at what Sikhism introduced 500 years ago, long before the feminist movements of the western world in the 1800s. Perhaps over time we have started forgetting some of these Sikhi values and got them confused by the strong influence of both western and Indian culture. In fact, I’m realizing how unfair it is to say that western culture is “forward thinking” or “progressive” and that other countries aren’t. Western society also traditionally had similar values to the ones we see on the left side of the table where woman is inferior, “temptress”, no rights over land or voting, her role is in the kitchen/bedroom only, and not allowed an education; and those effects have not entirely disappeared. We too are influenced by those dual effects from both cultures then. For example, I realized while reading this that the stigma around talking about menstruation is this thing that I have learned while living in western culture. It doesn’t exist in our religion, and the Guru Jis openly talked about it as the menstrual cycle is a key part of how human life is created. The stigma around sexual assault, disrespect for a woman’s body, the idea of men not being able to control themselves, are all different than what our religion teaches. (I talked about these more in the post about three Kaurs). Even the idea of “unholiness” around sex is different as there isn’t the expectation for celibacy but rather a balance in life and in the mind. While our Kaurs were fighting battles as armed soldiers hundreds of years ago, many modern-day policies restricted women from these types of roles. For example, the US Army’s combat exclusion policy which restricted women’s roles in the army was only lifted in 2013 and wasn’t fully implemented until 2016! For Canada it was 2000. 

We can see from our table that we can also learn a lot about respecting women from our teachings. Respect is in fact defined as “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.” I think a natural consequence of walking the path of liv, is that when we love God then we also see God in all of God’s creation and love and admire that creation too. We need to remind each other of our teachings and cut the stigma around important issues. All women want and deserve to be respected. Bhai Gurdas Ji says, ਦੇਖਿ ਪਰਾਈਆ ਚੰਗੀਆ ਮਾਵਾਂ ਭੈਣਾਂ ਧੀਆਂ ਜਾਣੈThe Sikh ought to treat beautiful women of others as his mothers, sisters, and daughters” (Bhai Gurdas Ji Vaar 29 Pauri 11).If we followed this, then men would not see a woman just for sexual attraction or her looks. I feel very disrespected when anyone thinks all that there is to me is my body- all human beings are more than just a body. Looks fade and the body is simply a vessel for this soul’s journey. Perhaps we all need to realize that it cannot be the foundation of love, or a marriage because it will fall apart. This is why falling in love with someone's social media picture does not make sense. Instead, a match of virtues, values, and spiritual direction and life purpose makes sense. Asking a woman to drop her aspirations to fulfill a man's goals and desires is also disrespectful. As a woman, I have also had to learn that compromise does not mean me having to give up who I am. To respect a woman is not to reduce her to just her body, but to appreciate the whole being, body, mind and soul that exists. Respect is also shown as listening and communicating. We might make mistakes and not get things right all the time, but I think the key is that we start having these conversations with each other. When we read the stories such as the ones of the three Kaurs (a few posts down on the page) it inspires us to realize that we do have a long way to go to break all the cultural barriers down that we put in place and revive the Sikhi way of treating women. 

Asa Di Vaar: “From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. O Nanak, only the True Lord is without a woman. That mouth which praises the Lord continually is blessed and beautiful. O Nanak, those faces shall be radiant in the Court of the True Lord.” (SGG Ji Ang 473). 

Well I hopefully I've given you lots of posts to read over the next little while! I wrote a lot over the last couple of days as I was inspired. 



  1. There is a DISCONNECT between Sikhi and Culture of Punjabi people. Mostly, NOT all those who LACK RATIONAL thought get caught by animal instincts like anger, lust, possessiveness, Dominance, EGO, greed etc.

    I have seen so called Gursikh fathers beat their dependent adult daughters, their wives or whomever. In Punjab so called Gursikhs(wearing 5 ks) even STEAL from Guru di golak, and ask for bribes from the public(in Govt offices).

    The BEST thing for a WOMAN is to be INDEPENDENT if possible: Financially, Emotionally, Physically, Intellectually, Spritually. Some don't have a choice, they are born into wrong homes, at the wrong time in history!!...

    That's up to GOD.

  2. Time's up for sexual harassment in medicine, says Lancet editorial
    Challenge is to generate ideas that will end sexual harassment, says Toronto STEM expert

    A wide-ranging report into sexual harassment within academia found that female medical students are sexually harassed at much higher rates than their peers in science and engineering. (Shutterstock / Syda Productions)

  3. Recently my comments have not been published, but this is an extraordinary one. A young woman learns to farm AFTER she loses all male members of her family. This is from Shri Muktsar Sahib area - very conservative area. I think your whole family will love this video. I left a comment on this story, and SHE responded

    ਹਰਜਿੰਦਰ ਕੌਰ ਨੇ ਦੋ ਭਰਾਵਾਂ ਤੇ ਪਿਉ ਦੀ ਮੌਤ ਤੋ ਬਾਅਦ ਸੰਭਾਲਿਆ ਘਰ,ਛੇ ਏਕੜ ਜਮੀਨ ਤੇ ਖੇਤੀ ਵੀ ਕਰਦੀ ਹੈ ਬਹਾਦਰ ਧੀ