What is the contribution of Sikhi to the uplift of women?
When Guru Nanak appeared on the Indian scene, the place assigned to woman was low and unenviable. The tyranny of caste had left its marks on Hindu women. They had resigned themselves to their miserable lot. A widow had to burn herself on her husband’s funeral pyre to become a Sati (the ancient Hindu custom rejected by the Gurus).
The position of Muslim women was also far from satisfactory. A Muslim could lawfully marry four women. Who were regarded chiefly as objects of sexual gratification. Women were kept within Purdah(veil) and their education and movements were restricted.
The Sikh Gurus gave women equal status. They gained social equality and religious freedom. The false notion that they were inherently evil and unclean was removed.
Sikhi conferred religious rights on women. Some Hindu scriptures had allowed an inferior position to women, and affirmed that they were unworthy of performing religious worship. A woman was regarded as temptation-incarnate. The lot of a widow was deplorable. The Gurus exposed the folly of such notions. They rehabilitated women in Indian society. Religious gatherings and kirtan were thrown open to women; they could participate fully in religious ceremonies and received initiation (Amrit) on equal terms with men. Guru Amar Das deputed some women for missionary work. Guru Hargobind called woman ‘the conscience of man’. In religious gatherings, men and women sang and preached without any distinction.
Guru Amar das condemned the practice of female infanticide and Sati. He advocated widow remarriage. Guru Teg Bahadur blessed the women of Amritsar and said that by their devotion they had made themselves “acceptable to God”. Sikh history furnishes names of many women who inspired men to heroic deeds. The “forty immortals” were put to shame by their women folk on their betrayal of the Tenth Guru, and thus goaded to action they welcomed martyrdom and earned pardon of the Guru. They were returned to the Guru faith by a woman. In the Indo-Pak conflict (1971), Sikh women on the border formed the second line of defense and gave valuable assistance to our fighting forces.