SIKHISM and Women is a compilation of fourteen essays that, in the words of its editor, explore “Sikh women’s social and religious lives and experiences,” for a perspective on issues related to Sikh female identity. Most of the essays assume, either overtly or covertly, that the Sikh intellectual tradition views women as equals of men. The gurus, in fact, specifically raised the status of women, but it has not translated into reality. Sikh women still follow social practices that reflect the control of men over women.
The essay on Gobind Singh’s Dasam Granth shows how it uses goddess mythology to lay the foundation for a feminist theology in Sikhism. Another essay examines early Khalsa texts and practices of early Khalsa Sikhs to establish that Sikh women gained authority through their status as sisters, wives, and widows of the ruling Sikhs. The novels of Bhai Vir Singh, the subject of another essay, project women like Sundri, Sheel Kaur, and Satwant Kaur as role models for others to follow.
Some essays study the identity of Sikh women from interesting perspectives. If one establishes that phulkaris are not just head covers but “metaphorical story-telling clothes” that reveal details about the status of women, another studies matrimonial advertisements to show that though present-day Sikh women work like men, they have to play traditional roles in their homes. One essay, in particular, argues that the inequality of Jat women is located in Sikh marriage practices.
Studies of Sikh women in UK and Canada show that women have to contend with the pressures of modernity and tradition; though they enjoy a measure of freedom at work, the Punjabi practices within marriage and family do not permit them to act independently inside their homes. Nikky Guninder Kaur Singh, therefore, makes a fervent plea for the retrieval of the rights of Sikh women and the refeminisation of Sikh rituals.
Though the essays in the volume have the trappings of a scholarly format-heavy use of theory and copious scholarly references-they are readable, interesting, and informative.
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