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The demand for allowing baptized Sikh women to perform kirtan and seva inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple sparked controversy in 2008. This issue was the topic of discussion at a seminar organized by the Global United Sikh Women Organization held today. Many people expressed differing opinions and engaged in a lively debate on this matter.

Women not participating in Sikh traditional activities 

Dr. Mohinder Kaur Gill, a Sikh scholar, advocated for the inclusion of baptized women as part of the Panj Piyare (Five Beloved Ones). However, Jathedar Akal Takht, Giani Gurbachan Singh, criticized her for addressing this sensitive matter in a public forum. He suggested that such discussions should have been held within a sub-committee comprising SGPC representatives, Akal Takht members, Sikh intellectuals, and baptized women.

During the same event, Rajinder Singh Mehta, a member of the executive committee of SGPC, expressed his opposition to the participation of women in the Panj Piyare and their involvement in kirtan/seva, citing various reasons. He argued that since the Almighty has inherently differentiated between men and women at birth, it is inappropriate to demand any changes in this regard.

Dr. Mohinder Kaur made contradictory statements regarding the role of women in the Golden Temple. On one hand, she mentioned that the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) had provided certain administrative reasons for prohibiting women from cleaning the sanctum sanctorum or carrying Guru Granth Sahib in a palanquin. However, she acknowledged that there was no valid reason to deny women the opportunity to perform kirtan.

In 1999, Bibi Jagir Kaur assumed the position of SGPC chief and declared equal treatment for baptized women in carrying out religious duties at the Golden Temple. Previously, acting Jathedar of Akal Takht, Prof Manjit Singh, led a group of baptized women, including Bibi Inderjit Kaur, the wife of Harbhajan Singh Yogi, to perform seva in the sanctum sanctorum. However, despite Bibi Jagir Kaur's announcement on February 3, 2003, Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, a former general secretary of the SGPC, was unable to arrange kirtan in the sanctum sanctorum.

On February 15, 2003, an incident of gender discrimination at the Golden Temple gained international attention. Two Sikh women based in England were reportedly assaulted by SGPC sevadars during the 'sukhasan' ceremony, which involves carrying the Guru Granth Sahib in a palanquin.

During a seminar held earlier, Dr. Upinderjit Kaur, the education minister, emphasized the importance of preserving moral and ethical values in society. She suggested that women should engage in introspection to promote ethical, moral, and artistic growth by eradicating social evils.

Various women and organizations participated in the seminar, including GND University, Punjabi University, SGPC, Kendri Sri Guru Singh Sabha in Chandigarh, and Naad Pargaas Sri Amritsar. Dr. Jasbir Kaur, the president, was commended by the minister, who believed that such seminars would contribute to the formation of an ideal society.

Sikh principles preach equality 

Sikhism upholds the principles that women and men possess equal souls and, therefore, have an equal right to nurture their spirituality and attain salvation. Within Sikhism, women actively participate in various religious, cultural, social, and secular activities. They hold leadership positions in religious congregations, engage in the continuous recitation of the holy scriptures known as Akhand Path, and participate in congregational singing of hymns called kirtan

The first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, proclaimed the equality of men and women. Throughout Sikh history, both Guru Nanak and his successors encouraged men and women to fully engage in all aspects of Sikh worship and practice. Women have been depicted as equal to men in their service, devotion, sacrifice, and bravery.

The Sikh scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, highlights the importance of women. In Raag Aasaa Mehal 1, Page 473, it states, "So why call her [women] bad? From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all." Guru Nanak tirelessly advocated for women's rights and emphasized the teachings of equality. He supported women having the same rights and privileges as men.

In summary, Sikhism recognizes the equality of women and men, granting women the freedom to actively participate in all facets of Sikh life. Guru Nanak's teachings and the Sikh scripture emphasize the importance of women and their integral role in society. While there is no restriction on women performing kirtan at the Golden Temple, there is still a debate over the issue. 

 

*Based on an article written by Varinder Walia, published in Tribune on 11th October 2008

 

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