Understanding Sikh Gender Inequality
Looking at the local Sikh internet forums, at least the ones that can be accessed publicly, there is marked lack of conversation regarding the tragedy of little Rajvinder Kahlon, who was allegedly murdered by her fathers own hands. Lakhvinder Kahlon, the accused, made his first court appearance yesterday, but was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to see if he is fit to stand trial. We can expect to see him back in court around the middle of February. http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=0e6f06b9-bb87-435d-a9c3-f630bfc5634e&k=16658
The Indian community is a divided one. Within the Sikh religion itself, there is much disagreement internally regarding some of the enduring archaic attitudes and treatment of women, although it is not often shared with the general public. The very prominent Indo Canadian wife killings last year publicly exposed a growing discontent within the community, however there are still repercussions to some who actively speak out against the poor treatment of Sikh and Indian women. It comes in the form of abuse from their own families, slander and lies from others within the community and social ostracizing.
To qualify the statement that all Sikhs treat women badly would be a tragedy. It is simply not true. However, as in other patriarchal cultures and societies around the world, there are those within the community that still believe and practice the “old” ways and attitudes- dowry, gender preference and arranged marriages. One must look at the difficulty in changing practices and beliefs that have been practiced culturally for centuries.
The dowry is still the main reason for so many abortions of female fetuses in India as well as Canada, and in areas of India where ultrasound is not routinely accessible , the practice of female infanticide still occurs. In Canada , most births take place within a hospital rather than with a midwife at home, so it is that much more important for the sex to be determined before birth -again – for those who chose to bear only a son or sons. To the man’s family who still subscribes to the practice of providing a huge monetary/material “gift” to the prospective grooms family, having multiple daughters may bankrupt him, or he mean that he may not be able to marry them off -making it clear why girl babies are liabilities .
However, if he has sons, he will be on the receiving end of such gifts and wealth, as well as obviously receiving another female within the home, who would traditionally be made to do the lions share of chores within her in-laws home. One can see the obvious dilemma for a man like Lakhvinder Kahlon, who had three daughters , no sons, and was obviously not a rich man. I could go on, but the post written on this man’s blog , sums it up very well. http://www.mrsikhnet.com/index.php/2006/11/27/women-in-sikhism-gender-inequality/ The discussion that follows in the comments below his post are revealing and I urge you to find understanding within them. Kudo’s to him for talking so frankly and openly about his beliefs and those of others.
To most Canadians who have no experience with this within their own religion or culture, it is clearly not an acceptable practice, and while it may be easy to vilify all Sikhs, it is ignorant to do so.
Hate never achieves greatness, and support for those who do stand up within the community is what is needed, not religious bashing. It is easy to sit on the side and criticise, but it is only those who are fearless and noble who put themselves out there for the good of others. Remember, there are many within the Sikh community that feel as we do, but are afraid to speak out, and the best thing we can do is back up those people who are advocating change. Hopefully , it will pressure those who are at the root of this ongoing and outdated practice to realise that women are not possessions or liabilities, but wonderful and essential components of any successful civilization. With time, the practice may be completely eliminated.
This is Canada, and regardless of your religion, or culture or beliefs, a women here is born free. Free. And with that birthright comes the ability to grow and learn and choose her own way in life. Taking away that child’s birthright is as much of a crime as killing her. Reach out and do something constructive. Small changes can lead to great movements.
I welcome all input, especially from the Sikh community, in the interest of change and understanding.