Sikh scholar challenges patriarchy and sex selection

Despite the patriarchal aspects of Sikh culture, a Sikh feminist speaking lat the University of B.C....

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Visiting professor Nikky Singh argues that the Sikh tradition is not as patriarchal as it has been interpreted by many adherents. She speaks Tuesday evening at UBC.

Despite the patriarchal aspects of Sikh culture, a Sikh feminist speaking at the University of B.C. says the religious tradition holds many liberating features, which women and men can both embrace for a more egalitarian society. Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh — who will head an extensive program at UBC’s Asian Centre Auditorium on Tuesday evening, April 3rd — has challenged the common close association with men of the symbols of the Khalsa, which include the sword and uncut hair.

“She argues that these symbolic markers of the Khalsa can be interpreted in a way that embraces women and femininity. Kaur Singh (also) makes clear that … sex-selection is a profound problem in Punjabi and Sikh society, to the degree that the sex-ratio in Punjab today is highly skewed,” says UBC assistant professor Anne Murphy, who is chair of Punjabi Language, Literature and Sikh Studies in the Department of Asian Studies.

Kaur Singh is the Crawford Family Professor at Colby College in Maine, USA. Her interests focus on poetics and feminist issues. A UBC news release says: “Nikky Singh has published extensively in the field of Sikhism, including Sikhism: An Introduction (IB Tauris, 2011) and Birth of the Khalsa (SUNY, 2005), The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent (Cambridge University Press, 1993) and The Name of My Beloved: Verses of the Sikh Gurus (Harper Collins and Penguin).”

Kaur Singh will speak Tuesday about the kind of insights that Punjabi poets provide on issues of gender, race, class, and religion. “She will talk about how their sacred and secular expressions serve as a connective ligament for our divided world,” says the release and invitation to the public. (Half of Canada’s roughly 350,000 Sikhs live in British Columbia, particularly in Surrey and Vancouver.)

The annual guest lectureship at UBC was established in loving memory of Harjit Kaur Sidhu (nee Gill), who was a strong advocate for education, Punjabi culture and language, and women’s issues. Every year, the program features a keynote address by a distinguished scholar, awards for local writers and student-contest winners, and student performances. This year, an award will be given for the most significant Punjabi-language book by a BC author from 2009-2011. Announcement of the Book Award recipient was made just prior to the event.

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Click on poster for more details of Nikky Kaur event at UBC on Tuesday.


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