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When Will Sikh Men Actually Stand Up?

Group of Sikh Men Singhs

Anonymous Kaur is sick of the expectations that an “ideal wife” should look and act a certain way to be deemed a worthy woman. She is sick of men claiming to support women’s rights and then when push comes to shove, hide away. She is sick of sexism creeping into relationships.

We all know about the poisonous, misogynistic Punjabi culture that is difficult for Sikh women to deal with. It seems like everything, from the way we act, to what we wear, how we look, the type of work we do, is all examined with extra scrutiny as opposed to the way Sikh men behave. But I think the worst part of the double standards is when it is only young Sikh women who stand up for themselves, with their male counterparts nowhere to be seen. While I recognize this is not the case for all Sikh men, it has happened too often in my life where I am pressed to ask the question: Where are my Sikh brothers when I am battling sexist issues? Who will stand up with me? When will they actually put their words of equality and social justice into action?

Do not get me wrong. There are plethora of Sikh men who are helping to pave the way for Sikh women, in a gurmat inspired way. And there are plenty of Sikh fathers encouraging  their daughters to follow their dreams and not be held down by societal pressure (my dad being one!). But where my frustration lies is within identity and what an “acceptable girl” should be in order to “bring home to the folks”.

It has been challenging as a bold, independent woman to find a partner.  I have had my fair share of being called too “activisty” or told “she is never going to settle and be a good wife” or judged for being “too tall.” I took these criticisms as indicators of our incompatibility, because at the end of the day respect and connection are important and I never want to be with someone who thinks these things right off the bat. Random aunties always will say such things without considering the emotional impact they are have on a young woman – I get that (while I wish it wasn’t the case). However, such comments are especially hurtful and  painful when they come from the parents of a person I have a deep and meaningful connection with. It’s even worse when they criticize my body and my age (things I cannot control)!

In this specific situation I’m referring to, I was attacked by the father of a person I was seriously involved with. His father said I did not “look good” standing next to his son (we’re the same height and I am physically bigger than him ), and that because I am a year older than him, psychologically we were not going to work. (He didn’t realize he just called his son short and stupid but no, the faults are with me.) His words stung. From what the son told me, his dad was very religious, was a sevadaar at gurdwara, and a “true” follower of Guru Ji’s teachings. However, I felt a disconnect between his words and actions. Personally, I have a long way to go before being Guru’s Sikh. I have my faults and I know I am nowhere near perfect. But I also know as Sikhs, our true judge is only our Guru. So, when someone else condemns me and my appearance without knowing anything else about me, it was the biggest slap in my face. As much as I wanted to (and need to) pick myself up and keep my chardi kala, those words were crippling  because it meant everything I did in my life from going to college, going to grad school, becoming self-sufficient, being active in the community were all diminished to my appearance from a “Sikh” father. 

But probably the worst thing about it all was that the son just went along with his father’s comments. As much as he told me that  he “…will always stand up to Punjabi culture nonsense,” and that he respects “…women and they are an important part of Sikh society,” and that he  supports and practices “the equality in everyone including women as a Sikh and human rights issue,” he did not live up to it. He didn’t stand up to his father’s comments. He did not defend me. His words are meaningless.

It reminded me of a shabad revealed to Guru Angad Sahib on Ang 474 of Guru Granth Sahib:

In summary, talk is cheap.

Obviously there was no way I could continue a relationship with this guy since he so easily gave into the sexist culture the second it became challenging. It is fine to  respect your parents, but he lied to me about his commitment to women’s empowerment, and he lied to me about partnership. You can also respect your parents while disagreeing with them (i.e. Guru Nanak Sahib). You can respect them while politely challenging their antiquated thinking. Ultimately, I felt like he should have been careful about the words he used when talking about women.

Childish, immature, superficial, and shallow don’t come close to describing how I feel about this situation.

What I learned after this incident was even worse. I learned that many Sikh women have gone  through similar things. So many sisters ended relationships because of what their partner’s parents’ backwards thinking about what an “ideal wife” should look like. No matter how many words these Sikh boys fed these women of respect, acceptance, and support, they did NOT act.

I believe this is for two reasons: (1) because they actually agree with their parents about the toxic, unattainable, constructed image of an “ideal  wife” or (2) they are weak and scared to stand up for the Sikh women in their lives. Which one is worse? Who knows.

It is great to see and experience Sikh men who actually do stand up for the partners regardless of what parents are saying about identity, image, and other really petty issues. But the weak boys are far more prevalent.

In Guru’s eyes, the most beautiful woman is not fair, thin, acquiescing, and short but one who does seva, who fights for the rights of others, and is (or wants to be) in love with Waheguru. “She is the most beautiful among women; upon her forehead she wears the Jewel of the Divine’s Love.,” Guru Nanak Sahib, Ang 54. But, the father and son in my story failed to internalize this message. (I’m not saying I wear such a metaphorical jewel, but I’m working becoming a better human, and I do not define my self worth on my looks).

I challenge Sikh camps and Sikh conferences to have strong dialogues of how respecting women and their identity must go beyond lip service. We have already addressed how Sikh women are faced with extra scrutiny in our Punjabi culture, but how does that move to the next step? How does the conversation stop being something just Sikh women have to do and move towards action by both Singhs and Kaurs? When will Sikh men start putting their money where their mouth is when they praise women but then struggle to stand up for them?

By Anonymous Kaur

 

 


Photo by the University of the Fraser Valley and is not related to the subjects in this article.

13 Comments

  • Avatar
    Narinder
    09/21/2017 at 1:00 pm

    It is all true, we live in a rigid community of injustice. No matter how much we give, if the ideal is not met, we are put down by our own sisters & brothers.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    PK
    09/21/2017 at 4:04 pm

    Unfortunately our community only cares about what other people think or how you are perceived by society. It doesn’t matter how religious anybody is – majority of Sikhs are very judgmental, complete opposite to what our religion is all about.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mkaur
    09/21/2017 at 4:29 pm

    I hear you. I went through a somewhat similar situation. In my case, it was an arranged setup. In short, Potential Groom’s father wanted marriage to be super simple, he didn’t expect me to do any thing. He was a head of nearby gurudwara, so was worried about what other people would say. I simply told them, NO, this is who I’m and I’m not going to just go with what they were dictating. I stood up for myself, and eventually found a guy (still an arranged one) who respects me for who I’m. Things that are meant to workout, will workout.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Unanimous Singh
    09/21/2017 at 6:19 pm

    What a sweeping generalization. Talk to my wife, my sister or my mother. They’d likely disagree with you.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Kaur Life
      09/22/2017 at 12:34 am

      Gur Fateh Mr. Singh,

      Thank you for reading the article and we appreciate your comment. We do want to point out that Anonymous Kaur tried not to make negative, sweeping generalizations. For instance she wrote:

      “ While I recognize this is not the case for all Sikh men…”
      “There are plethora of Sikh men who are helping to pave the way for Sikh women, in a gurmat inspired way. And there are plenty of Sikh fathers encouraging  their daughters to follow their dreams…”
      “It is great to see and experience Sikh men who actually do stand up for the partners…”
      She also said:
      “In this specific situation I’m referring to…”

      We would love to hear about your experiences with challenging gender roles and empowering Sikh sisters. We always accept submissions and it would be great to have a Singh’s perspective! You can reach us at Hello(at)KaurLife.org

      Thank you again,
      Kaur Life Team

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Mr.Singh
    09/22/2017 at 1:28 am

    I find myself wondering if the young man has acted appropriately re sexism in situations not involving his parents. If so, his issue may have more to do with an inability to reconcile his true opinions with his fealty to his mother and father. This is a common obstacle for Sikh men, although it does not excuse his behavior and does not make him a suitable life partner.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    shine deep kaur
    09/22/2017 at 9:24 am

    i agree with u that no one has rite to judge anyone be it male, female or belong to any social, religious group. i understood the pain that u went thru but being a sikh female i want to share sth with u. since chilhood i faced so many problems and these lil n big chalenge in life makes me more strong n confident about life n i do not feel any support from anyone for anything. U knw y because my waheguru ji with me n he wil aolwaz be with me n protect me.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    shine deep kaur
    09/22/2017 at 9:33 am

    one more thing i want to say just for healthy discussion..wen we use Sikh men it means we are targeting ol the Sikh men but if we use a man who think he is Sikh but actually followed this n did that… then it means for are talking about a particular type of men who even joined the sikhism did not able to change their mind set n not able to get the bliss love of waheguru ji which eliminate ol type of differences n hep to become good person in society

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Tejinder Singh
    09/24/2017 at 10:03 am

    People often confuse Sikh religion with Punjabi culture. Sikhism is the most practical religion, if one is to follow it. Unfortunately, very few people do. “Male privilege ” is huge in Punjabi culture. Thence…. Lohri and Rakhri.
    In my opinion, Punjabis love to support “the right things ” as long as it does not affect them directly. Someone else’s daughter wanting to be a mechanic is fine by me as long as my daughter is a doctor/teacher.
    Times have changed. Back in the day, men went out to work and women stayed home as homemakers. But, nowadays, women have to get a job outside the home as well as being a housewife. She works full time and still has to cook and clean at the end of the day. But he comes home and sprawls on a bed or grab a drink cause he is tired from working all day.
    And Punjabi people love to quote Guru Nanak Sahib about “So Kyo Manda Akhiye….” but they don’t want to act on it.
    Right now, the power lies with men. They have to lead by example and start treating women equally IN EVERY DAY LIFE NOT JUST ON FACEBOOK.
    I personally try this every day. And try to talk about it with other people too. And people are uncomfortable because it challenges their reality. That’s why I have just 2 Punjabi friends left ????. I live in Toronto.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Baldev singh
      09/25/2017 at 4:59 am

      Excellent take. It is time we exercise what we preach.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Baldev Singh
    09/25/2017 at 4:56 am

    This is typical in all cultures. In my lifetime among friends in the Japanese, Korean, Chinese, European, American, both Muslim and Christians alike in Mexico and Argentina YES that many friends from different religion and culture. We all suffer from sexist misogynistic Neanderthal brainless men ego. It is not confined only to the Sikhs. Having said that my wife is my queen and my daughter my princess. I can guide my daughter but it will be her choice to do as she pleases ( and I mean anything). My advice will be from my experiences and that is where it will end. I can and may be dissatisfied and disappointed about her choice however it is a choice she will make.
    We have a tendency to think in a one tracked mindset when faced with cultural sexism however many women of different faith suffer same. It is for all of us to combine our effort through dialog and practices to make sure this thought process this flawed image is forever eradicated.
    ONE HUMAN RACE. ONE PEOPLE. STAY BLESSED

    Reply
  • Avatar
    RajKaregaKhalsa
    10/01/2017 at 1:49 pm

    holy crap i need to talk to you on skype, your posts are good but you need to stop with this damn feminazi stuff your almost as bad as black lives matter claiming they cant do anything in live due to skin color. YOU LIVE IN THE WESTERN WORLD, do you know how equal is it? you cant keep complaining being a victim, sexism blah blah blah, when are you going to know biology wins , screw men who are actually sexist but alot of women are sexist here too, a true sikh preaches equality not women being more than men like you are. stop blaming the system or society or punjabi culture, most punjabis know and are ashamed they are subpr to a ideal sikh, seriously if we are going to reform the sikh community we have to move on, every sikh man or women needs to be healthy, lift weights, in a day of 2017 where not lik 1600 punjab were they were no GMO and clear water to see your face, our pineal glands are blocked and health issues arrive, why dont you stop looking inward and ashming sikh men to bow down to women being betas and SJWS and actually look outwards?!

    Reply
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