Sikh Women – from Vancouver to Yuba City

This past weekend, I attended the second annual Sikh Feminist Conference at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. A friend posted a concise review of the conference herewhich I would encourage you to read. I’ll just reiterate two points made – the first being the discussion around whether the western concept of Feminism fits within Sikhi. What does it mean to call oneself a Sikh Feminist or even a Male Sikh Feminist? Many participants at the conference felt the words “Sikh” and “Feminist” were redundant and that it was not necessary for us to try to mold to western definitions of feminism when our own faith clearly defines the concept of [gender] equality. On the other hand, others argued that the word is powerful enough to raise and question the issue of patriarchy that continues to exist within the community.The discussion reminded me of a similar conversation that was had at the Faith and Feminismpanel, featuring Sikh women, which took place last year in NYC. About the panel discussion, the author writes,

The core values in Sikhism, particularly the human rights element, were what informed [the panelist’s] views on issues, including womens rights. She has taken the word feminism out of the equation, and transplanted the values of it back into Sikhi, and reminded us that anyone who adheres to the principles of Sikhism and to the words of the Guru Granth Sahib has many labels, feminist, humanist, and activist are just some of them.

The second point is the important link between theory and practice within the Sikh community. I want to highlight this in two ways. The first being that while it has been established that the Gurus emphasized living in an eco-friendly way, it’s clear that as a community we are still working to close the gap – from melas to gurdwaras to within our own homes – our practice of living in an eco-friendly way could use some improvement. EcoSikh sponsored the Sikh Feminist conference and it’s presence was felt very thoughtfully throughout the day (biodegradableutensils, compost, recycling etc!) and it wasinspiringto see our community not just talk about it in theory, but actually put it into practice.

Another discussion was around the concept of izzat or honor, whether it impacts both men and women, how it manifests differently for men and women and why it continues to be a topic of discussion when theoretically, our Gurus gave us the guidance and tools to live in an egalitarian society. The concept itself has been one of discussion on our blog too – particularly around what it means to a family and to a community. We are once again reminded of this issue with the recent news of Baljinder Kaur, a pregnant woman from Yuba City who was arrested over the weekend, just before the Sikh Women’s conference, for apparently killing her mother-in-law.

Baljinder Kaur was arrested after two days of interviews with neighbors and family members, and five interviews with her, said Uppal. She and her husband Jatinder Singh have lived with Baljit a widow for several years. The Singhs five-year-old son, and Baljits son Manpreet Singh, 27, also live at the residence, which is in a neighborhood with a large Sikh American population.Rocky Singh, Baljit Kaurs son-in-law, told India-West he had seen Baljinder two weeks before the killing. She seemed okay, nothing out of the ordinary, said Singh, confirming that his wife Kiranjeet had found Baljit Kaurs deceased body. [link]

When local Punjabi Sikhcommunity members were asked about the incident, they told media that “these kinds of happenings is a blot on the glorious history of the community.” While the words of the community organization that represented this reaction could have been misinterpreted by the newspaper, there is more likely than not some truth to that perception. Shame, izzat, honor specifically come up in discussions involving women. Yes, perhaps the community organization would have reacted in a similar way if it involved men from the community – however,I’veread enough articles and cases about crimes involving men who are never given the burden of upholding an entire community’s legacy.

A contact from the local Yuba City community did suggest that problems have existed within the family for a while. These may have been red flags – the lack of support for families going through difficulties and the fear of airing the family problems (we talked about this previously in regards to speaking openly about mental health issuesand how that links to izzat). We can look to similar communities in England and Canada and probably find a dozen similar cases where there is some element of abuse or violence (most often towards the daughter-in-law but also potentially towards the mother-in-law because as we know, women do often oppress other women), a lack of support from family, a lack of access to services, isolation, depression etc.

I want to make it clear that i’m not making any assumptions in this case -we just don’t know enough about this case to comment on those elements of it. Regardless, we are left with the knowledge that this six months pregnant Punjabi Sikh woman is currently in prison, her mother-in-law is dead and we can only wonder what factors put her there and whether any of this was preventable.

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2 Responses to “Sikh Women – from Vancouver to Yuba City”

  1. Mohinder Singh says:

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