Guru Nanak was the founder of the Sikh religion. He taught us that men and woman should live in a world where they are equal.
“In a woman man is conceived; from a woman he is born. With a woman he is betrothed and married; with a woman he contracts friendship. Why say she is inferior, the one from who even kings are born? Without woman, there would be no one at all.” – Guru Nanak
The Guru’s who came after him also carried on his teachings by stating:
“Man is born from a woman; within woman, man is conceived; to a woman he is engaged and married. Man is friends with woman; through woman, the future generations exist. When his woman passes away, he seeks another woman; to a woman a man is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born. From a woman, woman is born; without woman there would be no one at all” – Guru Granth Sahib Ji
In the earlier days, women were given no freedom, no education and no say in political, social or cultural or economic affairs. Their jobs were to cook/clean and follow orders from males as they had more authority. These days, despite some areas that are still problematic, there is far more equality in the religion and females are given lots of the same opportunities as men.
Having various female Sikh role models to aspire to, may be the reason for improvements. Sikh women have so many great and powerful women to look up to like those listed below.
Mata Nanaki (1464-1518)
Mata Nanaki was the first follower of Sikhism. She was born in Chahal village which is now Lahore (Pakistan). Mata cared for her younger brother, Nanak, who became the first Guru of the Sikh Faith. Mata was the first to follow and share the religion with her brother which means she should be celebrated as the first Sikh.
Mata Khivi followed Guru Nanak’s teachings and she prepared food for all who came to hear the Guru’s stories and lessons. Her husband, Guru Angad, later became the second Guru of the Sikh religion, she decided to serve “Langar” – a free kitchen where all people regardless of background or money could be served. Today, all Gurdwara’s serve Langar to the surrounding community to bring people together.
Mai Bhago (Late 1600s-Early 1700s)
Mai Bhago is known for being a fearless warrior. She was growing up whilst the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, fought to defend the Sikh’s from Mughal forces and hill chiefs. During a great siege in 1705, Mai Bhago gathered 40 deserters and led them into battle with a sword in her hand. They died fighting and became known as the Chali Mukte – “The Forty Liberated Ones”. After this, Mai Bhago became the Guru’s bodyguard, wearing a turban and cross-dressing in male warrior clothes. She was very brave.
Rani Sada Kaur was a young widow as her husband died in a battle among Punjabi Chiefdoms. This caused her to transform herself into a woman-warrior. She commanded battles and even laid the foundation for the Sikh Empire which covered the Punjab from 1799 to 1849. She closely advised her son-in-law as he became the first Maharaja of the new empire.
Maharani Jind Kaur was the first female freedom fighter in the struggle to oust the British from India. She was married to the first Maharaja of the new empire and after his death, the British annexed the Punjab through bribery and battle. Rani Jinda Kaur’s amazing writings and speechless annoyed the British who imprisioned her in Punjab, Nepal, Calcutta and finally, England where she died in 1863 at the age of 46. She is known for “sowing the seeds” of India’s struggle for independence.
Amrita Pritam (1919-2005)
Amrita Pritam was the leading 20th century poet of the Punjabi language. She is considered the Sikh Community’s unsung heroine. She is the first prominent woman Punjabi poet, novelist, and essayist, equally loved on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. Her career lasted six decades and she made more than 100 books. She represents the rise of Sikh women – writers, artists, filmmakers, and scholars.
Dr. Inderjit Kaur (1942- )
Inderjit Kaur is the president of the Pingalwara Charitable Society in Amritsar, Punjab in India – a famous home that opened its doors to the poor, diseased, handicapped and mentally ill. Since 1992, she has carried on the legacy of its founder Bhagat Puran Singh with her own bold leadership. She stands in for a lot of Sikh women – doctors, nurses, health-care advocates, volunteers – who care for the sick and poor.
Prakash Kaur is known to stand up for females. She runs a house in Jalandhar, Punjab, for 60 abandoned girls. Having been abandoned herself and found only a few hours old in a drain, she understands the importance of this house. She has rescued and raised unwanted and unclaimed newborn girls since 1993. She now represents many Sikh women and girls that are against abandonment, sexual abuse, domestic violence and forced marriage.
Amrit Singh (1969- )
Amrit Singh was one of the fiercest U.S. Critics of the torture and abuse of prisoners under the Bush Administration. She was a ACLU attorney and she litigated cases on torture, indefinite detention and post-9/11 discrimination. She now serves at the Open Society Justice Initiative. Her father is the current Prime Minister of Inida and she now represents a new generation of Sikh women lawyers.
Dr. Anarkall Kaur Honaryar (1984- )
Anarkali Kaur is a human rights advocate and senator in Afghanistan. She fights for the civil rights of minorities and women. When the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, she joined the Grand Council, Loya Jirga, to elect the interim government, and then she helped organize the country’s new constitution. She is the first non-Muslim woman member in the lower house of parliament. In 2009, at 25 years old, she was voted “Person of the Year”.