Cultural Issues in the Sikh Community: Part 1

I wanted to take the time to highlight two issues (Part 2 to be posted soon) which have plagued the Punjabi Sikh community for many, many years. I know that discussing these issues over and over again is overwhelmingly tedious for the majority of people. Quite frankly, I agree. However, if I didn’t believe that having these important discussions and bringing awareness to these issues over (and over, and over) again added some value to potential solutions – then I wouldn’t waste the space. Needless to say, these issues don’t seem to be going away which means these conversations are that much more important to have.

A recent article in the NYTimes expresses surprise at the fact that female feticide is occurring within immigrant communities residing in the United States. The thought seems to be that preference of male children should ideally disappear with assimilation into western societies. (For those of us hanging out in The Langar Hall, we know this isn’t always the case in the Punjabi community). The article uses US Census Data to provide quantitative evidence that there exists a bias for male children in certain Asian American communities.

Demographers say the statistical deviation among Asian-American families is significant, and they believe it reflects not only a preference for male children, but a growing tendency for these families to embrace sex-selection techniques, like in vitro fertilization and sperm sorting, or abortion.

New immigrants typically transplant some of their customs and culture to the United States – from tastes in food and child-rearing practices to their emphasis on education and the elevated social and economic status of males. [emphasis added]

This latter point is especially significant. Is the problem ofsex-selective abortionspurely cultural and is that why it continues to be an “acceptable” problem?

The article touches on the reasons which are often cited in discussions around sex-selective abortions – the role of the male heir. Within the Punjabi Sikh community, these problems are perpetuated by the expense burdened by parents when getting their daughters married. (Point in case: individuals who often express disbelief when hearing about female feticide do not always express the same disbelief at times of marriage when, for some reason, it is considered acceptable to partake it meaningless ritualistic and lavish weddings – the bills often paid for by the bride’s family). These events are considered “Sikh” weddings – but as is often the argument – where does being Punjabi stop and practicing Sikhi begin?

As a commenter quite rightly adds,

The article gives the often-repeated reasons for preference for boys: that the family name is carried through the male line and that elderly parents depend on sons for support. I wonder about two other reasons not discussed though: traditional marriage obligations which make daughters more expensive (because of dowry payments), and simple mysogyny. These are less morally neutral, but surely they are also in play. I wish the author had discussed them and I wish the various researchers could tell us more about them. I’m not sure parents would admit to them, of course. But as a feminist I am a little bit troubled by the ways in which we seek to excuse sex selection as culturally based. It may well be culturally based but not all aspects of culture are admirable. [link]

My point is that while we may not be able to change the mentality of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation – we can make different decisions that would impact generations to come. Perhaps not all cultural traditions are worth holding onto? Many will argue that within time, these trends will disappear. However, time is not a number and also not a goal we should be comfortable with.


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9 Responses to “Cultural Issues in the Sikh Community: Part 1”

  1. Reema says:

    Sundari,

    I agree- we certainly need to stop holding onto traditions that are antithetical to our values.

    I also think that we women need to start coordinating on the images of us that exist today, and creating pathways for action and support, so that as we act in our own communities, we remain connected to each other. It could be as simple as a Google group to discuss problems we're facing, and discuss possible solutions.

    There is a race against time in battling sex-selection because newer technologies are being created to allow families to discover the sex of the fetus earlier and earlier in the pregnancy. With each technological advancement, we lose more women, and with them, the contributions that they would've made to our community.

  2. Reema says:

    Sundari,

    I agree- we certainly need to stop holding onto traditions that are antithetical to our values.

    I also think that we women need to start coordinating on the images of us that exist today, and creating pathways for action and support, so that as we act in our own communities, we remain connected to each other. It could be as simple as a Google group to discuss problems we’re facing, and discuss possible solutions.

    There is a race against time in battling sex-selection because newer technologies are being created to allow families to discover the sex of the fetus earlier and earlier in the pregnancy. With each technological advancement, we lose more women, and with them, the contributions that they would’ve made to our community.

  3. Sundari says:

    I think that's a vital point Reema – we do need to create pathways of action and support. We have to help women be comfortable speaking openly about these issues. I think there is so much stigma associated with these problems and this prevents honest conversations. Without this honesty, women will not be empowered, and without that empowerment change won't come about.

  4. Sundari says:

    I think that’s a vital point Reema – we do need to create pathways of action and support. We have to help women be comfortable speaking openly about these issues. I think there is so much stigma associated with these problems and this prevents honest conversations. Without this honesty, women will not be empowered, and without that empowerment change won’t come about.

  5. Mr. Singh says:

    You almost sound apologetic in raising this issue. However, I think it is an important issue that you are drawing our attention to. And yes, we do need to raise it again and again and again and again if sex-selective abortions keep happening again and again and again.

    We never get tired of raising 1984, the attack on Harmandir Sahib and Sikhs which was an external attack. In contrast, sex-selective abortions is an attack from within, corroding the foundations on which Sikhism stands. In that sense it is more dangerous, and has already killed thousands and thousands in excess of those died in 1984. Till we have completely eradicated this criminal practice (and its causes) from our society, a discussion on this issue will never be a wastage of space and time.

  6. Mr. Singh says:

    You almost sound apologetic in raising this issue. However, I think it is an important issue that you are drawing our attention to. And yes, we do need to raise it again and again and again and again if sex-selective abortions keep happening again and again and again.

    We never get tired of raising 1984, the attack on Harmandir Sahib and Sikhs which was an external attack. In contrast, sex-selective abortions is an attack from within, corroding the foundations on which Sikhism stands. In that sense it is more dangerous, and has already killed thousands and thousands in excess of those died in 1984. Till we have completely eradicated this criminal practice (and its causes) from our society, a discussion on this issue will never be a wastage of space and time.

  7. Camille says:

    Mr. Singh, I agree, and I think these issues will continue to plague our community so long as we refuse to put our money where our mouth is on the issue of gender equity. While sex-selective abortion may seem a more cringe-worthy and obvious form of sexism for some of us, the reality is that it mirrors a greater pattern and practice of son-preference and male-preference within the Sikh community at large. It would be great to ground this conversation in the larger issue of gender equity.

  8. Camille says:

    Mr. Singh, I agree, and I think these issues will continue to plague our community so long as we refuse to put our money where our mouth is on the issue of gender equity. While sex-selective abortion may seem a more cringe-worthy and obvious form of sexism for some of us, the reality is that it mirrors a greater pattern and practice of son-preference and male-preference within the Sikh community at large. It would be great to ground this conversation in the larger issue of gender equity.

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