A story about navigating sexism, honoring family legacy, and embracing Sikh values.
by Rakind Kaur
Your Inheritance – Sexism
These two words of Punjabi translate into “your inheritance”. If we get a little technical about it, they translate into “property inherited from your paternal ancestors”. One that, in most traditions, only men have the right to. In Sikhi however it is different. In Sikhi, it is not children who inherit, although they can be the ones who do. Sikhi teaches us, through philosophy and history, that what is inherited is not physical wealth but spiritual one. And those who inherit this wealth are not determined through bloodline or sex or gender, but anyone who proves themselves worthy.
Yet, over time, we have allowed sexist practices to creep into Sikh society. We have muddled the very important message our Gurus gave us and fallen back into a misogynistic, patriarchal society. To the degree where terms like female foeticide and female infanticide came to exist and the child sex ratio in Punjab has skewed from 50/50 to 798 females to 1000 males. This is by no means a Punjab-only or a Punjabi-Sikh only problem. But the simple fact that our Sikh heritage is based on revolutionary equality, this problem in even more shameful.
Only Girls in My Family
I was born into this social dynamic. People would ask me about siblings and give a depressing sigh when they found out I had an only sister. “Oh! So it’s only you two girls,” they would say. I retorted that my parents only ever wanted the two of us. The old archaic mentality lingers heavy in the air – “Who will carry on the family name?”
My paternal grandmother also had the same reaction at my birth. In response, my father, who is one of the most filial creatures I have ever met, stood up for me. As filial as he might be, he never compromised his morals or principles. He wanted daughters. Because of our culture, he wanted to raise daughters even more. So, he did. He stood with my mother against prejudice in his family, prejudice of Punjabi society in Punjab, and prejudice of Punjabi society in North America – even when he didn’t need to. He didn’t need to, because he raised a very strong Kaur who could, did, has, and will always stand up for herself and everyone around her.
Carrying On My Family Name
Kaur. I was raised as a Kaur. I have been carrying on this family name since I was born. My Guru gave it to me, and I dare anyone to prove to me how any man could more validly carry on my family name better than me or any of my sisters. As a Kaur, I travelled across countries at age 16. I put myself through college in a metropolitan like Los Angeles on my own dime when I was 18. I established a home – a household, a family bound by love and friendship. I developed a place in my community, as an activist, an environmentalist, a poet, a writer, and an artist – with my own hard work and virtue. My gender was never a hindrance in me carrying on my family name or establishing myself in this world. I stood on my own two feet as a strong, independent creature of nature as Waheguru made me.
My Juddi Jaidad is Sikhi
Our roots have been rotting for a few generations now but, as any good gardener will tell you, if you catch the disease in its early stages you can still save the plant. It’s time we save our roots and replant ourselves in the soil nurtured by understanding of Gurbani. I have often been asked – “What have you done for Sikhi?” I have always found the question rather odd. Sikhi doesn’t need me to do anything for it. Sikhi doesn’t need me to be there for it. It is there for me. All one can do for Sikhi, all one has to do for Sikhi – is be a Sikh. That is all. So, that is all I do as well. I live it.
My juddi jaidad is Sikhi. An extension of it is my life and my dreams. Out of these dreams the very first one was to build my own home. It was a strange dream because when I had it, I was only 3 years old but somehow, I knew I must accomplish it. So, I did. 25 years later, on Aug 25, 2020, amidst a pandemic that griped humanity, I signed papers that give me claim to a small house that sits on a small piece of land in Southern Indiana (which was once stewarded by the Shawnee tribe) .
Building a Home from Scratch
The 3-year-old me didn’t understand why she had this dream. I loved the home I grew up in. Though, I’ve never needed walls to be at home. I have written several poems about it. This planet, all of it, is home to me. I do not believe in ownership of land. And yet, I knew it was a dream I must realize. It took several years of questioning and introspecting to understand the reason and purpose of this dream. The answer came on a random day in my North Hollywood apartment, this was the place, the home where I had stayed the longest and so, it got its name – Sifardan.
“Sifardan” – means “from scratch”. My grandfather built his life from scratch twice, my parents built their life from scratch three times and I built mine the same way. Guru Nanak Sahib built Sikhi from scratch. Waheguru built this universe from scratch. It all started from scratch so, how could I have ever done anything else?
I have been called a lighthouse several times in my life because I am the kind of person who makes you feel at home. I want the extension of that homeyness to exist in a physical form so those who have no place to go, those who needed refuge, to regroup, or just a helping hand had some place to go. My home was never meant for me. It was just meant to be built by me. If you ever find yourself in need of rest, of shelter, of a safe place, whoever you are, you are welcomed at Sifardan.
Finding me is not hard. My name so far, belongs only to me. In this world so connected by social media, if you ever need help feel free to ask. And to those well-wishers who are much too aware of the dangers of human society – do not worry. I appreciate your concerns and before you ask “But what if someone robs you?” I answer, “What can they even steal? My cabinets full of teacups? My kitchen full of food? My walls full of art? My shelves full of books? Or my garden filled with plants?” I own no fancy gadgets that one could pawn off. If someone steals from my home, it is a cry for help because they won’t be stealing for money. Besides, I have the strongest kind of protection anyone in this world has ever had. I am a Kaur. The whole universe is always there to protect me. I live what ੴ means.
I, as a not rich, single, independent young woman bought a house to carry on my family’s name and concept my Guru created at Bhai Lalo’s home. While staying at Bhai Lalo’s home, Guru Nanak Sahib found warmth and love in simple his kodre (millet) di rotti. He also experienced honesty, which was lacking in Bhai Lalo’s more wealthy contemporary, Malik Bahgo. During this stay, Guru Sahib regularly sang kirtan. Ultimately, Guru Nanak Sahib used Bhai Lalo as an example of what a Guru Ghar should look and feel like. And thus, the first ever Gurdwara in Sikhi wasn’t built by designing a building but rather by living the concept.
I learnt from my heritage and choose to live what my true ancestors taught me. Guru said kirat karo and with it I realized my dreams. Guru said naam japo and that is what gave me strength to overcome all adversities. Guru said vand chakko and that is all the reason Sifardan was created. This is what I do for Sikhi. This is what I do for us. This is how I help replant, rebuild, and reconnect to what our inheritance truly has been. Because Sikhi, is my juddi jiadad.
Reconnecting with Our Heritage
In addition to Guru Nanak Sahib, Mata Khivi Ji left us her example to follow and I only endeavor to follow it. Sikhi teaches us to provide shelter to those who need it and, food and resource to those who have been neglected. Sikhi teaches that regardless how much or how little you have, share it and share it with the concept of equity in mind.
Which values of Sikhi will you embody? What elements of our legacy do you wish to continue? I share this in hopes that I can put forth a perspective that may help you find a way to reconnect with our heritage. Perhaps through my story you can carve a path to heal from the patriarchal society that has stunted our growth. If you are a Kaur trying to make it on your own and feel drowned by naysayers produced by misogyny, remember to lean on Gurbani. Remind yourself that our entire heritage is on your side. We can rise together, so let’s rise.