Why is this topic so popular today?
Standing up for women’s rights is as essential as recognizing that all women, even all Sikh women, are certainly not alike. Our journeys are diverse, and our stories cannot be monotone, monologue, or monolithic. To stand in solidarity with these different journeys, to respect their differences, and to stand against things that might be threatening some of these journeys is the whole game that Guru Nanak asks us to play.
Today, Guru Nanak would ask about the high rates of feticide, about domestic violence and about child abuse. But he would also ask some of the things that do not make headlines: the dearth of Sikh women role models at Sikh camps and retreats; the lack of women’s representation on our stages; the imbalance in gurudwara committees, Punjabi schools, and in our homes. The lack of female voices on our dining tables (though not kitchens) and on our TV sets. He would ask why of 190 heads of State, only nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of seats are held by women. Of full professors around the United States, only 24% are women.
And he would prod us to ask about what we are doing to change this? Do we check the habits that hold back women, including Sikh women?
And to Sikh women, he would ask, what we are doing to check our own discrimination of other women—based on race or caste background (do we always remember that women of certain backgrounds might be bearing discrimination primarily for the color of their skin or immigration status?); based on education background (do we speak in a language that is accessible as well as intriguing and intellectually stimulating to all or do we reserve discussions about women to conferences etc.—for example, will I translate this article in Punjabi, for starters?); based on class background (do we simply assume everyone has access to internet and can find the same resources we do?); based on age (do we simply use “Aunty” as some sort of dismissive/even supposedly funny jibe, and sideline those carrying wisdom differently and/or longer?)
Perhaps the topic of Sikh Women is trending precisely because Guru Nanak would have so much to say about it?
Voice. Different from mere noise, voice is the learned, deliberate practice of finding the courage to speak truth, to articulate that which might go against prevailing wisdom. The essential lesson about voice that the Sikh Gurus taught was in fact not even about our own voice, but the voice of others: to be attentive and notice what voices might be stifled or not heard. Guru Nanak didn’t remark “O, I don’t hear lower castes complain about the janeu, so they must not really care about this issue!”