Sikh women want equal rights….And rightly so.
But then, do they in reality have to ask for something that is theirs historically?
Purely reflecting on at the tenets of Sikhism …We as Sikhs ‘should’ be very proud of the unique stand our religion takes with regard to the equality between men and women, which has been evident since its origin….Here the operative word is ‘should’…We should but we cannot be , for we far from follow the dictate of the Gurus.
Even though we have an over 500 years of headstart we must introspect and make every effort in real terms to pursue in practice the Guru’s teachings of equality. …not only concerning man and man but also negate the gender bias between man and woman.
Most agricultural civilizations relegated the importance of women, thus plummeting their status and potential in society. Agricultural civilizations were characteristically patriarchal. What we mean by this is that the way of life was controlled by men .They made decisions on all political, economic, and cultural matters. A smaller unit of the society was an individual family which was again set up on a patriarchal basis, with the husband and father determining fundamental conditions and making the key decisions, and with it was the self-effacing total obedience to this male authority.
Now this was not all, as agricultural civilizations urbanized over time and became more prosperous and more elaborately organized, the status of women did not improve ….Far from it, it deteriorated further. Patriarchal family structure continued to rest in man’s control so did most or all property, starting with land itself; and therefore subordination to men, was the normal condition for the vast majority of women.
Centuries preceding Fifteenth century were not really mellow times for North India, women were chattels …womanhood was severely besmirched and oppressed by the dictum of society. Given no education or freedom to make decisions, their presence in religious, political, social, cultural, and economic affairs was virtually non-existent.
The caste ridden patriarchal Indian society treated a woman as a liability, her purpose in the social order was only to perpetuate the family lineage, do household work, and serve the male members. Female infanticide was common along with the horrific practice of sati…, the sacrifice of the widow on her husband’s funeral pyre; sometimes it was even forced on the ill fated woman.
For all intents and purposes this was the societal fabric at the time of Guru Nanak’s birth.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji condemned this man-made perception of discrimination of women, and protested against their long subjugation.
At a time when witch hunts were still common in the west and the slave trade was at its height in central Asia; Guru Nanak Dev Ji fought back against the mindsets that society had taken against women in India, and gave them equal status.
In Guru Granth Sahib Ji, it states:
“We are born of woman, we are conceived in the womb of woman, we are engaged and married to woman. We make friendship with woman and the lineage continued because of woman. When one woman dies, we take another one, we are bound with the world through woman. Why should we talk ill of her, who gives birth to kings? The woman is born from woman; there is none without her.” (Guru Nanak Dev, Var Asa, Ang 473)
In the 17th century Guru Gobind Singh Ji continued the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, by bestowing the name Kaur ….meaning Princess upon all Sikh women. This he did, to give them a unique identity and to challenge long set traditions .
The time was Baisakh of 1699, and the place was plains of Punjab… Sikh Women were given the last name 'Kaur' and and Men 'Singh'. The literal meaning of the word 'Kaur' is possibly…Prince not Princess. It is a derivative of the Sanskrit word 'Kanwar' meaning Prince, whereas, 'Singh' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Simha' meaning lion.
Do you know, interestingly in the past even male Sikhs have used ’Kaur’ in their name.
Guru Gobind Singh said,
"You are my beloved, my daughters. You must be respected. How can this world be without you?.
"You don’t have to take anybody else's name. You are an individual, you are the equivalent of a prince, and you keep Kaur as your given name.”
This was a tangible step towards human equality in an era when slavery was rampant in America and slave markets flourished. Guru Gobind Singh sought to end the citadel of caste system, social stratification and much of the apparatus of Hindu ritualism.
Another interesting trivia is that there was a 4th Century Goddess called KORE or KAUR was depicted by the Upright Pentacle symbol ….five corner star. This was one of the most widely used religious symbols, used by by ancient Pagans, ancient Israelites, and Christians, magicians, Wiccans and others. This symbol apparently originated as the symbol of this Goddess who was worshiped over an area which extends from present-day England to Egypt and beyond. Kore was also known as Car, Cara, Carnac, Ceres, Core, Kar, Karnak, Kaur, Kauri, Ker, Kerma, Kher, Kore, Q're, etc
While researching the origin of Kaur, we came across an interesting usage of Kaur as early as 1636 for both males and females, in Switzerland….though different spellings were used: 'Caur', 'Kaur', 'Kauwer' and 'Kauer'
Birth and death records from the 1600's indicate:
Kaur is a common Estonian first name.
· Kaur Alttoa, author of book "The Churches of Saaremaa" was associated with the "Viljandi Muuseum" excavations, Kindral Laidoneri plats 10, EE 71020 Viljandi, Estonia in 1971-72.
· Best seller writer Kaur Kender, author of Yuppiejumal
The Importance of Kaur
Have you ever thought why Guru Gobind Singh, gave the option of Kaur as a second name to Sikh women?
Why did he not acknowledge the status quo?
What was Guru Ji trying to achieve by calling the Sikh woman "A Princess"?
|3 women by Amrit Shergill|
To try to understand the possible reasons behind Guru Gobind Singh’s far reaching decision, we need to look at the situation at the time in different cultures. In Indian society, the brides first and last name was often changed after her marriage. This still happens today.
However, this tradition of name changing does not occur just in India. It is a phenomenon which occurs across the whole world today.
Unsurprisingly, the man's name never changes.
Guru Gobind Singh changed all this with the resurrection of the Khalsa. He gave women the opportunity to live life free, unchained from the shackles of a dogmatic society.
It was ‘Hukam’ fro the ‘Param Purakh’ he said. He readily accepted the difference between men and women but strongly asserted that this difference did not imply inequality.
In his code of belief though women and men were dissimilar and poles apart in psyche all the same the equality they share is paramount.
The importance of "Kaur" is truly inexpressible. It is something very unique in history ….Especially if you stop to ponder on the presence of Sikh Women in State Affairs .
In annals of Indian history, you will notice only a few women have actively participated in government affairs…namely Razia Sultan and Jhansi ki Rani But, strange enough Sikh history is replete with the remarkable role played by women of princely families… The Sikh Ranis .As and when an exigency come to pass, they creditably arose to the demand to participate in state affairs and towards the Sikh polity as rulers, or as regents, or simply as administrators and advisors .
"The Sikh ladies ruled with vigour and diplomacy," says General Gordon.
In the words of William Francklin, "Instances indeed, have not infrequently occurred, in which they (women) have actually taken up arms to defend their habitations, from the desultory attacks of the enemy, and throughout the contest, behaved themselves with an intrepidity of spirit, highly praiseworthy”
To quote Griffin, the Sikh women "have on occasions shown themselves the equals of men in wisdom and administrative ability."
Usually the dowager queens in time of need filled the space to do commendable works. A passing reference of the role of some of them towards the end of the eighteenth century and in the first half of the nineteenth century may not be out of place here.
|Rani Sada Kaur|
Rani Sada Kaur, widow of Sardar Gurbakhsh Singh Kanaihya and mother-in-law of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was well versed in the affairs of the state and commanded her soldiers in the battle-field. She was a very shrewd lady with a thorough grasp of statecraft.
Mai Desan, the widow of Charhat Singh Sukarchakia, was a great administrator, an experienced and a wise diplomat.
|Maharani Jindan Kaur|
Maharani Jindan Kaur, Mahraja Ranjit Singh’s widow tried to bulwark the crumbling empire.
So now …coming back to my question on equal rights for women …. Why do women have to ask for something that is theirs historically?
In the Sikh way of life, women have equal rights with men. There is absolutely no discrimination against women. They have equal rights to participate in social, political and religious activities.
Dear daughters of Punjab…..Equality as a right is yours given by our Guru …Take it !!!Sikh women have played a glorious part in the history and have a played a vital roles in shaping important events .The wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of the Sikh Gurus were instrumental in bringing about many of the time honored traditions. They never flinched from their duty….. One illustrious example is that of Mai Bhago… Mata Bhaag Kaur who bravely fought war for Guru Gobind Singh, when some Sikh soldiers deserted him and returned home.
The Gurus use woman symbolically in the bani to represent the disciple. Bhai Gurdas, the scribe of G.G.S., says, "Of all the Vedas' knowledge and all other virtues, it is the woman who can best guide man to the gates of salvation."
Generations of Sikh ladies till date have selflessly served the humanity shoulder to shoulder with men. Some were unassuming and quietly supportive, others courageously outspoken and fierce in battle. When faced with adversity, Sikh women showed strength of character and deep commitment to the values which they helped to establish and instill in their faith and families.