In Sikhism, women stand proudly at par with men. Throughout history, they have played a vital role in strengthening and propagating the ideals espoused by Sikh Gurus. A brief look at our history books and we can find an abundance of exemplary Sikh women who have been leaders, warriors, mothers, and teachers. They have shaped the idea of Sikhism and have participated in the spiritual renaissance of the society as much as their male counterparts. Here are some women, both contemporary and from our stories, who stand out as shining examples for generations to come:
Mai Bhago —
During the battle of Anandpur when Mughals surrounded Anandpur, a group of 40 Sikhs decided to relinquish their religion in the hopes of an amnesty from the gathering army. They deserted their brethren and signed a document called ‘Bedava’, announcing that they are not Sikhs of Guru Gobind Singh Ji anymore. Hearing this, Mai Bhago, was greatly disheartened. She approached these Sikhs with fury. She reminded them of what they left behind and they were ashamed of their deeds. These were the 40 men who later attained martyrdom against the Mughals in a fiercely fought battle near Khidarna. Mai Bhago was also injured in the battle. Later, she assumed the role of one of the bodyguards of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, in male attire.
Mai Kishan Kaur —
She is known for her active role in Jaito agitation. Maharaja Ripudaman Singh, the ruler of Nabha, was known for his independent attitude that irked the British. And thus, he was forced to abdicate as the British did not see kindly to any challenges to their authority. The Sikhs of Jaitos came under his territory. They decided to hold Akhand Path at Gurudwara Gangsar for the wellbeing of the Maharaja and to wish him strength. When the British authorities got the wind of it, they saw it as an act of resistance. Their forces entered the Gurudwara compound and stopped the Akhand Path. Not only that, they imprisoned all the people present there inside the compound, denying them both exit and any provisions. When the news spread, people of nearby village of Rode organised a group of volunteers. Mai Kishan Kaur was part of them. They managed to arrange and deliver rations to the compound somehow, but the Akhand Path was still not allowed. Another group tried to enter the Gurudwara to commence the prayer but the government opened fire on non-violent protestors. She was wounded in the chaos and was later arrested and prosecuted by the British for 4 years imprisonment. Once released, she was welcomed by the Sikh community with open arms. She continued to serve at Gurudwara Gurusar for the rest of her life.
Amrita Kaur Pritam —
Born to well-educated parents, from a very young age, Amrita was inclined towards writing as a medium to express herself. It came naturally to her. Amrita had witnessed the misery of partition and the sufferings she saw during that time became a part of her writing. After our Independence, she became the first women to be awarded Sahitya Akademi Award and the first women to receive Padam Shri. Amrita became a voice for those women who could not speak for themselves. Through her words, she fought for equal rights for women and challenged the outdated societal norms at every turn. She revitalized the Punjabi language through her works. She understood that though decades of oppression, Punjab suffered a great loss of art. She spoke about the supposed inferiority complex that some Punjabis feel about their language in front of other more widely spoken languages. She worked tirelessly to prove the Punjabi is as beautiful and nuanced as any other language.
Sikh Women Beyond India —
Sikhism, although rooted in India, has now become a global force. Here are some examples of women doing some amazing work in their fields:
Baljit Kaur is a well-known community leader and advocate for the rights of women and minorities. Born and raised in Canada, Baljit Kaur has been involved in the Sikh community for many years, working to promote greater understanding and awareness of the religion and its rich cultural heritage. She is particularly passionate about empowering women, and has been active in a number of initiatives aimed at addressing issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, and gender equality. In addition to her community work, Baljit Kaur is also a talented speaker and writer. She has delivered numerous speeches and lectures on the importance of equality and social justice, and has written articles and essays on these topics that have been widely read and acclaimed.
Balpreet Kaur is a Sikh social justice activist and artist based in Canada. She is best known for her advocacy for women's rights and her work as an artist, using her platform to raise awareness about important social issues. Balpreet Kaur is also an advocate for mental health and has been involved in numerous initiatives aimed at improving the mental health of Sikhs and other marginalized communities.
Rupi Kaur is a Canadian poet, writer, and visual artist who have gained widespread recognition for her work exploring themes of love, loss, femininity, and survival. Born in India in 1992, Kaur immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age and grew up in a Sikh household. Her passion for writing and art began at a young age, and she went on to study rhetoric and professional writing at the University of Waterloo. Kaur rose to fame in 2014 with her self published poetry collection, "Milk and Honey." The collection, which explores themes of love, heartbreak, and healing, quickly gained a large following on social media, and Kaur became one of the most recognizable poets of her generation. "Milk and Honey" was eventually picked up by a major publisher and has since sold over 3 million copies worldwide.
In conclusion, Sikh women have played a significant role in the history of Sikhism and continue to do so today. From historical figures like Mata Sundari and Rani Sahib Kaur, to contemporary figures like Dr. Amrit Kaur, Amrita Pritam, Kiran Kaur, and others, Sikh women have made significant contributions in various fields and have helped to shape the history of Sikhism. They have been powerful leaders, accomplished scholars, and respected spiritual leaders. They have also been active in promoting interfaith dialogue, human rights, and the rights of marginalised community.