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"Abstracts Of Sikh Studies" Institute of Sikh Studies


Professor Prabhjot Kaur

In this age of democracy, when equality has emerged as a keyword, women too have become conscious of their status and are demanding equality in every respect, and if refused, are prepared to fight for it tooth and nail. Women's Liberation Movement is the outcome of the prevailing mood. The Movement that was started by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the year 1848 in Seneca Falls, a quiet village near New York, has not looked back since then. It has been going on, though the pace varied from time to time. Setting up of a UN Commission on the status of women gave a further boost to the movement, which was to spread very fast, taking the whole world in its fold.

Indian woman too was not to remain untouched by this movement, and today she is asserting herself everywhere and has earned herself a rightful place in every field. She enjoys all constitutional rights and can seek legal redress in case she feels that she is being deprived of her rightful dues.

Now the question arises where does the modern woman find herself today after she has achieved so much as a result of the Liberation Movement in her favour. Have all her problems been solved? Has the Movement helped in bringing down divorce rate? Are rape and dowry deaths anywhere near extinction? It is said that the status accorded to women is the touchstone of the civilization of society. Has successful launching of the Movement, which warrants equality and as a result better status for women, made today's society better and more civilized than it was before the Movement? The answer to all these questions is a definite no.

If the Women's Liberation Movement is the answer to all the problems of women, how come that the divorce rate has increased manifold. Teenage-killers and teenage-abortions were problems unknown to previous generations. Broken families do not startle us anymore. Why did we need to observe the International Year of the Family (1994)? The institution of family is as old as the history of human civilization. Today, when man has made unprecedented progress in all spheres and is on the threshold of the 21st century, why should the institution of family feel so threatened as to make the UN devote one full year to impress upon man the importance of the family?

Women have always been the pivot of the unit called family. Betterment of women should be synonymous with the betterment of society. Then why does the situation stand as it does today?

Scholars in Sikh philosophy unequivocally emphasise that the solutions to all the present-day problems of man can be found in the Bani revealed by the Gurus and the bhagats in the Guru Granth Sahib. Is it not time we try to find the solution to this problem from the "Gurmat" point of view?

Social, political and religious document, as Guru Granth Sahib is often made out to be, is basically designed to give spiritual nourishment to the starving soul of man. While talking of the matters spiritual, the imagery of family-life in general and that of husband and wife in particular has been used in the whole of Guru Granth Sahib. All mankind is the woman, the wife ("dhan suhagan") and Lord Almighty is the Lover, the Husband ("kanth").

All human beings (men and women) have been called "nar" (woman/wife) and thus have been considered not only equal, but the one and the same thing. All men of God are "sohagan" - a woman who is the beloved of the Lord - whether they have the body of a man or a woman. Obviously, for Guru Sahib, physical body does not matter. Human bodies are transitory. Hence, the difference between man and woman is only transitory - and as such superficial. It is the worth of the human being that really matters. Guru Sahib talks to everyone and anyone who aspires for a certain degree of quality in life (spiritual, moral, intellectual and emotional). So in Sikh theology, men and women (physical beings) enjoy equal status, nay, a woman has been bestowed with a special status when Guru Sahib equates all mankind to a woman.

However, one fundamental difference between the present-day Women's Liberation Movement and the Gurmat philosophy needs to be understood. Today's liberated woman is demanding a status equal to that of a man, thinking (erroneously though) him to be superior to her in every respect, whereas as per the Gurmat philosophy, it is the woman and not the man who is 'the best of the best' ("sabh parvare mahi sreshth"). So it is the man who is expected to follow the footprints of the woman.

Sikh philosophy calls upon all men to cultivate the superior qualities that come naturally to a woman. A man must be guided by a 'sohagan' in the ways spiritual. A man can attain the love of God, the same way as a woman attains the love of her husband. Just as the qualities like contentment, serenity, poise, amiability and sweetness of tongue are the qualities that earn love and respect for a woman, similarly, mankind too can earn an honourable place in the heart of the beloved Lord by following the same path.

Spiritual philosophy of Guru Granth Sahib is equally relevant in social matters. Gurbani calls a woman "Batees Sulakhani" - a woman embellished with thirty two qualities. According to "Mahan Kosh", authored by Bhai Kahan Singh of Nabha, are attributed to a woman: Beauty, cleanliness, modesty, humility, concord, observance of religion, intelligence, knowledge, service, compassion, truth, dedicted love of spouse, purity of mind, patience, frugality, beneficence, sobriety, chivalry, active habits, house decoration, respect of elders, proficiency in music, poetry, painting, domestic science and embroidery, respectful attention to guests and upbringing of children."

When a woman becomes batees-sulakhani while leading a socially useful life, not only for her immediate family but also for the society that she lives in, she aspires to turn these into a heavenly place. She bears an offspring that is an embodiment of Truth, which is an ideal for others in everyway. Being intelligent, well-educated and accomplished and having an intutive mind, she is even capable of guiding the other members of her family. She is a good wife and a good mother who can completely change the destiny of the family, the society and eventually the nation.

One thing that deserves special mention here is that while feminine qualities like compassion, patience and contentment are recommended for a batees-sulakhani, the masculine qualities like chivalry and intelligence have not been overlooked. A woman is not expected to be a spineless creature without having an independent personality of her own. Boldness and chivalry are important attributes of a batees-sulakhani, because without these traits a situation that is absolutely undesireable with prevail. Guru Granth Sahib says:

Women have become submissive, while the men have become tyrants. (p.1243)

Weakness of a woman will tempt a man to exploit her. He will thus turn into a tyrant. Guru Sahib does not approve of such a situation:

If one loses honour in life, impure is all that one eats. (p.142)

The message contained in the said lines holds true for all human beings, ("jiv istrian") men and women.

Being a good wife and a good mother does not mean that a woman should turn her back when the situation demands action on her part. Mata Bhago did the same when the call to act came. Mata Sundri not only took keen interest in Sikh polity, but also successfully guided the destiny of the Panth at a crucial juncture.

It is a matter of piety that today the liberated woman, instead of cultivating the qualities of humility and chivalry in right proportion, has started considering humility a negative quality, and in her misdirected enthusiasm for equality, takes pride in being a rival to her husband instead of being his complement. As a result of this her responsibilities have increased manifold. Since few women can equal themselves to multiple challenges posed by the complex lifestyle, it has resulted in her leading a stressful life. The result - the unity of family is threatened. The young generation, deprived of a stable and emotionally secure life, feels frustated and is seeking refuge in drugs and other intoxicants. Crime among young adolescents has increased. Diseases like AIDS are tightening their grip. And they do not find any way out of this quagmire.

Man today has started feeling an urgent need to bring about a healthy constructive change in today's lifestyle. Social scientists today have started realising that feminine qualities like patience, humility, love and self-sacrifice can pave way for a better social climate. Famous author Dr. H.B. Dinesh, M.D., a former Associate Professor of Psychology and Family Medicine, quotes in his book, 'Violence Free Society':

"But the scales are already shifting - force is losing weight and mental alertness, intutive and spiritual qualities of love and service, in which a woman is strong, are gaining ascendency. Hence, the new age will be less masculine and more permeated with feminine ideals - or to speak more exactly, will be the age in which masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more properly balanced."

In the world today, there is an increasing realization and readiness to accept the Gurmat philosophy which glorifies feminine qualities and enjoins upon all humanity to cultivate these qualities, which according to Dr. Dinesh, will banish violence from the family, and eventually from the society.

The secret of success in today's complex and problem-ridden life lies in the acceptance and practice of the kind of life advocated in Guru Granth Sahib. Herein only lies the solution to all the problems of the modern man.

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