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Sikh Women Hit Temple Bar


The Telegraph, Chandigarh, Sep. 4, 2005

Photo: Mejindarpal Kaur and Lakhbir Kaur, prevented from performing sukhasan seva at Darbar Sahib, Feb. 15, 2003

The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee's decision to allow Sikh women to perform some rituals in the Golden Temple has hit a roadblock.

The S.G.P.C., the apex body of Sikhs entrusted with the upkeep of gurdwaras, had last month decided to allow women to perform kirtan (singing of hymns), palki seva (carrying the Guru Granth Sahib in a palanquin) and lead religious processions as panj pyaras (the symbolic representation of the first five Sikhs baptised by Guru Gobind Singh).

The Sant Samaj, a conglomeration of Sikh outfits, has given S.G.P.C. chief Jagir Kaur time till September 20 to debate the issue. 'We cannot allow the rahit maryada (code of conduct) as laid down by Guru Gobind Singh to be broken,' said Samaj leader Sarabjot Singh Bedi.

The code of conduct, however, does not discriminate between the genders.

The S.G.P.C.'s green signal to women has not been without conditions. Only baptised women following all religious tenets and the dress code can join the rituals. The women also have to get themselves registered for voluntary service.

The first demand to allow women to perform religious service at the Golden Temple was raised in 1940 but the male-dominated S.G.P.C. turned a deaf ear. So far, women have been allowed to participate only in certain activities like preparing food at the langar (community kitchen).

The Sikh clergy is vehemently opposed to letting women perform seva [service] in the sanctum sanctorum, saying they are 'dirty' during menstrual cycles.

The cries rang loud in 2003 after London-based criminal lawyer Mejindarpal Kaur and her friend Lakhbir Kaur were told off by volunteers when they wanted to take part in the procession that carries the Granth to the Akal Takht each night and back in the morning.

'You cannot have two sets of rules,' Mejindarpal, who has been a granthi in a London gurdwara, had argued.

The Samaj has decided to approach the Akal Takht jathedar, Joginder Vedanti, to stop women from participating as panj pyaras.