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Sikhs & Sexual Abuse

My story is just a tiny drop in the ocean full or horrific stories by women worldwide. Our community needs a major clean...

Sometime in the 1700’s – Delhi, India

The Afghan Moghuls had invaded India and slaughtered thousands of men in battle, looted tons of treasure, and kidnapped and abducted a lot of Hindu women. (One source said it was 22,000. Another source said it was 2,200. But regardless, it was a lot of women!) The Moghuls were planning to take these women back to Afghanistan so that they could be sold into slavery and on the way, these women would be used by the Afghan soldiers to “satisfy their lust”. 

When news of these horrific events reached the Sikhs, they came together and made plans to rescue these kidnapped women. Led by Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, the Sikhs made midnight raids and rescues and saved the women and children that were stolen by the Moghals. Unfortunately, many women and widows were not accepted back into their families. When their own families rejected them, they were welcomed and embraced by the Sikhs and they were able to marry the Sikh soldiers.  

That is how freaking awesome we were. 

So, what the hell happened? Who are we now? Why is sexual abuse now so prevalent in our communities, in our homes, and in our GURUDWARAS?! We come from a lineage of men who protect, honour, and respect women regardless of what circumstance they have gone through. Yet, nowadays, there are so many cases of our men abusing women in spaces that are supposed to be safe and sacred. 

As you all must know by now, there have been many Sikh perpetrators that have been called out by their victims in more recent events. This has gotten widespread attention in our community and the interesting part of it all is that I’ve seen so little support for the victims and so much defense for the perpetrators. And honestly, it hurts. 

As a woman that has personally experienced sexual harassment myself, it has been so discerning to see how quickly we accuse the victim of doing something wrong and how quickly we try to uphold the honour of the perpetrator that did not hold any accountability of his actions. There are neighbors, cousins, uncles, tabla players, and Granthis that have committed acts of sexual abuse in spaces that are unimaginable. 

Yes, I am aware that this type of violence happens everywhere. It happens at places of work, the entertainment industry, and disgustingly, it happens amongst political leaders! But that doesn’t make it okay for it to be happening in our community. I expect better from us. We answer to a higher power. We answer to a higher power than the police, or a constitution, or a workplace code of ethics. We answer to our Guru. 

And if that doesn’t mean anything then who are we? 

When I was in college I had a boyfriend that did not belong to the Sikh faith. He was a gem of a person and he never once tried to take advantage of me, but alas, our paths did not match up and so we had to call it quits after 4 years. He was my first love so getting over him was very difficult. When that relationship ended, I made a vow to myself to only date Sikh men. I knew that I ultimately wanted to end up marrying a Sikh and so I rejected anyone who wasn’t a Sikh. Several months after my breakup, I met a guy through one of my circle of friend groups. He was a sardar and he was an Amritdhari! Bonus points! He asked for my phone number, he started texting me, and he said that he liked me. He asked me to be his girlfriend. I said yes and I was so excited. I felt like I was on the path to a more Sikh way of living especially because this new boyfriend of mine was an Amritdhari. There was so much that I could learn from him. Perhaps, down the line, I could take Amrit myself!

I had recently moved out on my own and my new boyfriend knew this and instead of asking me out on a date for a coffee or a dinner, he asked to come over. I thought that was a little weird. He then started saying things like, “I’m really tired. Will you let me lay down on your bed? Will you lay down next to me on your bed?” I was so thrown off. Upon expressing my confusion, he laughed it off and said that he was joking. We decided to meet the next day instead. . . .

But on the next day, he asked me the same things again. He even went on to say, that whatever happens between us needs to stay between us and that I shouldn't tell anyone that we were boyfriend and girlfriend. I was so confused. Hadn’t Amritdharis taken a vow of chastity to the Guru? Was that not part of the maryada? I thought I was safe. I thought that I would never have to worry about any of this while dating an Amritdhari man. I was so wrong. I didn’t allow him to come to my home and I broke up with him. 

It was the shortest, weirdest, and most disappointing relationship I had ever been in. I was heart broken. I contemplated going back to my first love. Because, even though he didn’t belong to my faith, he respected me so much more than this particular member of my own community did. 

I realized that who we are today is not who we were back then and that was the most heart breaking part of it all. I was in college and I was learning so much about Sikhi at that time. I was learning about the warrior saints of our history and I admired and loved us so much. I still do love us. But Lord, in today’s time we have a lot of work to do.  We have not upheld the sanctity of our ancestors. We have not even scratched the surface of defeating the 5 vices. 

My story is just a tiny drop in the ocean full or horrific stories by women worldwide. Our community needs a major cleanse. After hearing so many stories from friends and colleagues, after watching documentaries and testimonials, I thought of just a few suggestions for how we can protect ourselves and our community and how we can move forward in the future: 

1. We need to start an international list/database of sexual predators in the Gurudwara space

What ends up happening is, if a priest or a tabla player get caught with sexual misconduct, they are either fired or deported. Okay great. But then they go to another Gurudwara in another city or state or to another Gurudwara in India. Then they do the same thing AGAIN. That does not solve the problem. That just moves the problem around. As I've mentioned before, one must take accountability for what they have done. There needs to be some sort of blacklist of sexual predators in the Sikh community so that if they get fired from one Gurudwara, another Gurudwara will know why and will not hire them.  

 2. For the love of God, can we get some women and some younger people on the Gurudwara committees?

Just like people of color need representation in the government, all types of people need representation on the Gurudwara committee. Women need to be in that space so that other women in the sangat feel comfortable talking to someone in the committee and so that they feel heard. Also, so that Gurudwara committee members do not continue covering up crimes of their staff. We need to restore the Gurudwara to a place of safety and protection again. 

3. We need to change the conversation at home. 

This is actually the easiest, yet the hardest, yet the most important thing we have to do. I know and I understand that we come from a very conservative culture. We do not openly talk about these issues at home but that has to change. We need to teach our boys how to be decent human beings. (Example: Stop asking for nudes from that girl that you are talking to on shaadi.com!) And we need to teach our girls about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable (Don't send him those pictures!) and when and how to stand up for themselves. Because the very moment that something like this happens, a woman needs to raise hell. 

    3.a. Do not leave your children alone with anyone. ANYONE. 

There are so many cases of young girls and boys who are sexually abused and assaulted by family members and trusted friends and even religious authorities. When it happens, the victims are understandably scared and too shamed to even tell their own parents. Because they are silent, the abuse continues. 

And as a community, we have to listen and we have to respond. And we have to support each other. Especially our victims. Male or Female. Because, yes, even men get sexually abused. 

There was a time when Sikh men upheld the sacred spirituality of their turban by being a woman's protector, warrior, brother, and friend. Back in the day, Singhs would give up their lives to uphold the dignity of women that were abused by other communities. 

But now and today, can we use that same attitude and spirit to also protect our community?

Bhull chuk Maaf

Christine Kaur 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Page 431, Line 14
ਕਾਮੁ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਲੋਭੁ ਤਜ ਿਗਏ ਪਆਿਰੇ ਸਤਗਿੁਰ ਚਰਨੀ ਪਾਇ ॥੫॥
Kām kroḏẖ lobẖ ṯaj ga▫e pi▫āre saṯgur cẖarnī pā▫e. ||5||
Lust, anger and greed left me, O Beloved, when I fell at the Feet of the True Guru. ||5||
Guru Arjan Dev   -  view Shabad/Paurhi/Salok

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