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Gendered Reading of Sikh History and Culture
A review of Relocating Gender in Sikh History: Transformation, Meaning and Identity by Doris R. Jakobsh (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003; pp. 296, Rs. 265).


The American Historical Review, Jun. 1, 2004 (Volume 109, Number 3)

Appropriating the pioneering methodology of Joan Wallach Scott, Doris R. Jakobsh provides the first critical gendered reading of Sikh history and culture. This is a welcome departure from current trends in resurrecting women's voices in Sikh studies, which make do with simply inserting women into Sikh history without altering the hegemonic, patriarchal narrative of the tradition in any way. Jakobsh goes beyond the dominant formulation that informs such texts to provide an analysis of the way that Sikh women have been perceived by male Sikh intellectuals throughout Sikh history (1469-present), and of how this perception has been made to play a role in the construction of the 'true' Sikh: namely the hypermasculine Sikh male of the Khalsa Order.

As the context of the book under review is the entire history of the Sikhs, it may be divided into two uneven chronological sections: the early period beginning with Guru Nanak, the founder of the tradition, and ending with the rise of the Punjab Kingdom (1469-ca. 1800), and the later generally ending when Sikhs en masse joined the Indian nationalist movement (ca. 1800-present). Sources for the second period are more abundant thanks to the mid-nineteenth-century appearance of the printing press in the Punjab and its regular use by the Sikh intelligentsia, particularly members of the Singh Sabha or Singh Society, who sought to recast Sikhism in light of their own 'enlightened' understandings of religion, nationhood, and modernity.