It is through woman that order is maintained. Then why call her inferior from whom all great ones are born,” says the Guru.
In Sikhism women are considered equal to men, with same souls, sensibilities and levels of spirituality. The Sikh scriptures profess equal rights for women and in fact a higher status. Bhai Gurdas writes, “A woman is the favourite in her parental home loved dearly by her father and mother. In the home of her in-laws, she is the pillar of the family, the guarantee of its good fortune... sharing in spiritual wisdom and enlightenment and with noble qualities endowed, a woman... escorts him to the door of liberation.”
Woman, a doorway of awareness and salvation, is regarded as an epitome of love, wisdom and intelligence, who, because of her ability to conceive and give birth, becomes not only the creator but also the medium through which the society is maintained. No wonder, the Sikh gurus regarded marriage as an equal partnership. Guru Amar Das says, “They are not said to be husband and wife who merely sit together, rather they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies.”
Women are an integral part of religious activities. They perform kirtans, lead religious congregations, recite akhand-padhs and participate in all the religious as well as political activities associated with the gurdwaras. They are always present in the religious congregations, with no restrictions imposed on them. The only condition which is rather a positive one and like a fresh breath of air, is that a woman must not wear a veil. According to the Sikh code of conduct, “It is not proper for a Sikh woman to wear a veil or keep her face hidden by veil or cover.” In the Guru Granth Sahib, the veil is compared to suppression. “False modesty that suppressed is ended. Now with veil cast off am I started on the way of devotion,” states the Guru.
With the condemnation of veil is addressed another relevant issue of “gazing”. The Sikh Gurus emphasise that instead of women, men should be blamed for all kinds of sinful thoughts that cross their minds when they see a woman. It is clearly stated in the Granth, “Vain are the eyes which behold the beauty of another wife.” Guru Nanak in fact questions the mankind, “why call her evil?” A woman is regarded as a vessal through which all life comes to this world.
In the same vein, the Sikh gurus raised their voices against the practice of dowry. The gift given as a wedding gift should be the spiritual way of life. “O my father, please give me the name of the Lord God as my wedding gift and dowry... Any other dowry, which the self-willed manmukhs offer for show, is only false egotism and a worthless display,” says the Guru. Gender discrimination, of any form and nature, is not permitted and has no religious basis at all. Female infanticide has no place in Sikhism and Sikhs are prohibited to have any contact with those who indulge in it. The practice of sati was also condemned and Sikhism permitted widow-remarriages.
Women, in Sikhism, are given the status of princess with the surname “Kaur”. They are baptised in the same manner with the five Kakkars. With the donning of “sword” as one of the Khalsa symbols, she was expected to be brave and courageous who could defend herself and others. Sikh history is replete with the deeds of warrior women, with Mai Bhago Kaur being the first woman to fight on a battlefield and served as one of the bodyguards of Guru Gobind Singh.
In all the spheres of life, spiritual as well as secular, Sikh women are given equal status and have participated as equal companions.