Sunday, June 24, 2018

Three Sikh Women

Here are the brief life stories of three Sikh women which I had not previously heard of. All three were warriors.  

Bibi Nirbhai Kaur
She was also a warrior during the times of Ahmad Shah Abdali (Durrani) in the 1700s. Under his direction, Jahan Khan destroyed Kartarpur including the burning of Gurdwara Tham Sahib. In the rampage against Sikhs, Bibi Jis mother was burned in her house. Bibi Ji was amongst four women who were taken captive by the soldiers to be given as a gift to their commander. She had killed two soldiers on the way, which further intrigued the commander. When asking her name, she replied “Death.” He told her to speak nicely in order to save her life, however she defiantly replied that “Death does not wish to live.” The commander wanted to spend the night with the women but left temporarily to go see the destruction of Kartarpur. In the meantime, the Kaurs escaped killing the soldier on guard. She returned with her fiancé to rescue other women we were being raped by the commander, and killed the commander herself. These women felt bad that they would not be accepted by their families after they were abducted, but the Khalsa took them in and they were baptized and married Singhs. This really speaks to the differing attitudes towards sexual assault amongst the Khalsa vs Indian society and culture. Nowadays rape victims face a lot of blame, stigma, and having other people judging them. These women were not blamed but accepted after what they had been through and supported by the Khalsa. I think we have a lot to learn from that since we seem to be moving away from what our Sikhi shows us is right and towards treating victims with shame. Bibi Ji’s story really teaches us about the leadership and bravery of the Kaurs. It also shows us that people are able to heal from their trauma and do not have to be defined by what happened to them. We will see this as well in the next two cases as both Bibi Shamsher Kaur and Bibi Baghel Kaur were kidnapped before they joined the Khalsa.

Bibi Shamsher Kaur
Her life takes place in the 1700s. She was born as Shamo and belonged to a Brahmin (priest) family with her sister Ramo. The sisters were kidnapped by Ali Beg, chief of Hissar, so their father went to Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia (commander of Ramgarhia Misl) for help. The girls were freed by the Sikhs, but their father was afraid to take them back, worried about what people would think after his daughters had been with the Muslims. Sardar Ji reassured him, but later he returned again saying the villagers wanted the girls to return to captivity because they were scared that Ali Beg would return to the village. The girls refused to return to the village of cowards and were raised as Sardar Ji’s daughters. They learned horse-riding, swordsmanship, and Gurmukhi, then took Amrit and became Shamsher Kaur and Ram Kaur. After marriage, Shamsher Kaur fought in a battle at Balata for Sardar Ji which they won. She was bestowed 5 villages to protect and preach Sikhi. Thus she fully fulfilled the role of saint-soldier. As she dressed as a male soldier, many did not know she was a woman. Meanwhile, the chief of a nearby village named Mohammed Ali wanted to forcibly marry a girl named Razia. She tried to escape but was recaptured and her father was put in jail. She convinced the soldiers to bring her out to the fields to get a watermelon, and there Shamsher Kaur approached, leading a group of Sikhs. They found out what was happening and freed the girl (who was surprised to be saved by a woman soldier), then returning to free her father as well. Mohammed Ali begged for forgiveness and was released but later plotted against the Sikhs. A battle ensued and he was killed by Shamsher Kaur herself. This speaks to her high skill level in the battlefield. Her husband was also martyred. The Marathas (a group of castes in India) then came with an army of thousands to take over. Bibi Ji refused to surrender and was bravely martyred with her force of 1000 Sikhs. In her life story, we can learn that despite having been kidnapped as a young woman, she grew into a brave warrior. The fact that the villagers wanted to return the girls to the kidnappers, even after being part of a Brahmin family, speaks a lot about the status of women in the culture. Yet they were fully accepted by the Khalsa. As the leader of those villages, her life was a complete contrast to the life of Indian women at the time who were not allowed any role in spiritual life, political life, or roles outside of the household. As Khalsa Bibi Ji exemplified all of the values that we should carry, including fighting for justice as she went to save the Muslim girl. 

Bibi Baghel Kaur
She was a Hindu bride who was kidnapped on her wedding day by a group of Mughal Soldiers. Her Hindu husband subsequently took Amrit and returned with a group of Sikhs to free her. She also took Amrit and became Baghel Kaur, a soldier. She participated in a battle against Mir Mannu. When his army retreated, she and four other Kaurs were separated from the Sikhs and set up their own camp. When a group of soldiers came to capture and marry them, Baghel Kaur fought them off, cutting off a soldier’s arm and escaping on horseback with the other Kaurs. During the time of Mir Mannu, Sikh women were tortured, having their children speared and cut up, put as garlands around their mother’s necks in order to have them convert to Islam. None of them gave up their faith. After Mir Mannu’s death, they were still being held and Baghel Kaur came with a group of Sikhs to free these women. Unfortunately, then Ahmad Shah Durrani started his own torture and Baghel Kaur sent her husband and son into the forest, while she fought to protect Kaurs from being captured. Eventually she herself was caught by the soldiers and whipped along with other Kaurs. The soldiers tried to torture and bribe the women into converting but they refused. Baghel Kaur was ordered to be tied to a pillar and whipped but she grabbed a soldier’s sword and fought. In this process she and other Kaurs were martyred. The next day a large group of Sikhs successfully freed the remaining women. Her story of being a kidnapping victim and then a warrior of the Khalsa serving to free women from Mir Mannu and Ahmad Shah Durrani’s torture is an amazing story of courage, fighting for the rights of others, justice, and advocacy. Despite the torturous circumstances these Kaurs faced, none of them gave into Islam and rather fought for their rights

Having read these stories, I am very inspired by the Sikh women in our history. For me they raised questions in my mind too about the status of women today, and whether even from our mindsets we are either taught or influenced to limit ourselves from achieving what these women did. I think that everyone can draw from their inspiration and example as they were truly saint-soldiers and exemplified everything that Sikhi is about. We should also pass on these stories to our friends and our children as they build courage and resilience. In the next post I will explore these topics further.  


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