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Religion Library: Sikhism

Gender and Sexuality

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The religion's critics, and moral Sikhs, would acknowledge that Sikh society has a long way to go to match Guru Nanak's intentions. One egregious example of where progress must be made is on the issue of a preference for sons over daughters. Despite their Gurus' repeated condemnation of the act, and proscription against even associating with daughter-killers, female infanticide is a rampant problem with potentially disastrous demographic implications down the road.

However, as the Sikh people increasingly participate in the global realities of the day, it is nearly impossible to assume that they will retain their ties to feudal, patriarchal culture for very long. They will certainly have to find a way to blend the liberation of the feminine gender so clearly expressed in their Guru's teachings with need for robust gender equity. Sikh women and men will continue to find their Gurus' teachings to be a source of inspiration for working toward that equity.

This is even more so the case because Sikhs value family life and obligations as part of their religious path. This path is centered around committed, monogamous relationships. For the 17th-century Sikh writer Bhai Gurdas, grahasti jivan ("the life of a householder") is the only way to attain liberation. Renunciation of that life, as was popular in several medieval Hindu sects, went against the grain of pro-family Sikh thought. The Sikh marriage rite recapitulates the intended spiritual union of humans and the divine in terms of the bride-and-groom relationship. Issues of separation and divorce are left to families to decide.

In Sikh tradition, sex is to be constrained to the context of monogamous relationships. Family life is part and parcel of the Sikh commitment to greater society. Sikhs strive to attain divine consciousness not away from society, but in the midst of it. Sikh worship is inherently a family-centered worship, with those of all ages and both genders participating.

Study Questions:
1.     On what grounds did Guru Nanak speak up on behalf of women?
2.     What strong stance did Khalsa codes of conduct take on gender issues?
3.     How is the Sikh idea of family related to notions of sex?