Sikhs control women by extreme actions

// 7 July 2012

Sikh woman portrait.jpg

Two stories about the actions of a minority of Sikhs in Britain have been published in newspapers this week. The first is about some Sikhs forming an alliance with the English Defence League over the alleged sexual assault of a Sikh woman by a Muslim man. The second is about a group of Sikhs occupying a Gurdwara (a Sikh place of worship) to prevent a wedding taking place between a Sikh woman and a Christian man.

As well as highlighting different interpretations of religion, these stories show how some Sikh men wish to control Sikh women. Sikhism believes in equality, but Sikh women are not always on an equal footing. The people involved in these incidents claim the are doing the right thing but I believe these actions have left Sikh women worse off.

Collaborating with the EDL to protect the honour of Sikh women is extreme. Sunny Hundal wrote about the history between the Muslims and Sikhs which could explain why some Sikhs met with the EDL. But I cannot see how this alliance will lead to justice for the Sikh woman involved. Instead using the alleged assault as an excuse to express their hatred for Muslims, these Sikhs should be working with the police and supporting the woman in her fight for justice. Sunny Hundal mentions a leaflet which urged Muslim men to seduce Sikh woman to convert them to Islam. I remember at the time how Sikh girls were confined to their homes by their relatives to keep them away from Muslim men and I do not want the same thing to happen to another generation of Sikh teenagers because of this alleged assault.

Opinions differ on whether a non Sikh can have a religious Sikh wedding, but it is significant that the bride was a Sikh and the groom was a Christian from a West African background. Weddings between Sikh men and European women do happen these days with relatively little fuss. However, because the Sikh was a woman who wanted to marry outside the faith and to a man of West African origin some Sikhs who lived nowhere near the Gurdwara felt it had to be stopped. This is effectively telling Sikh women to marry other Sikhs or else face harassment and intimidation.

Both incidents show that some Sikh men still want to control how women should lead their lives how they use the events in a woman’s life to pursue their own agenda. It frustrates me how some Sikh men chose to ignore real issues such as female foeticide and domestic violence yet use extreme measures to protect their interpretation of honour and faith when it is threatened by those not belonging to their own community. Many Sikhs are appalled by the actions of a minority in their community and I hope they care enough to help change the attitudes of this minority.

Picture shows a woman praying outside the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Picture is by Malosky, used under a Creative Commons License.

Comments From You

Yakoub Islam // Posted 7 July 2012 at 5:41 pm

The first article you link to (which appears in The Daily Mail) draws attention to a minority Sikh response based on the notion that Muslim men seek to seduce Sikh girls, often for conversion. This is NOT a view held by a minority of Sikhs, but something on an urban myth sadly common to the community, albeit rarely an active issue — indeed, where I live, SIkhs and Muslims share community facilities and mostly get along just fine. This issue actually crops up in the literature on Islamophobia (Sayyid and Vakil, 2010) as an example of a prejudice the lurks around waiting to pop up and spit when the anti-Muslim climate bumps up against the usual nutters. Here’s where balkanised issue politics bangs up against a need to properly understand social phenomenon in broader societal terms. This is the Mail (right-wing media) presenting a bunch of white Islamophobes (racism) as almost legitimate because of their associations with Sikhs. To jump on this story and claim it as a gender issue without wider analysis risks your readers being dragged into the same ugly, ill-explained foray. Here’s hoping this comment goes some way to ensuring they don’t.

Shiha Kaur // Posted 7 July 2012 at 7:38 pm

Yakoub Islam – I agree that most Sikhs and Muslims get along just fine, but sadly there are some Sikhs out there who wrongly believe that every Muslim man wants to convert their daughter. Sunny Hundal’s article, which I linked to in the third paragraph, provides a broad and detailed analysis of the situation.

This is a feminist issue as some Sikhs will limit the freedom that the girls have and keep them at home so that they don’t mix with Muslims. When the leaflet about conversion was circulated (again linked to by Sunny Hundal), I knew Sikh girls in London and Birmingham who were not allowed to leave the house except for school.

Henry // Posted 8 July 2012 at 8:16 pm

I am surprised at the sheer naivety of some of the pieces on here.

Firstly, there is no verifiable link between the EDL and the Sikh community. There are even some muslim members in the EDL, a similar amount compared to the Sikh number. On the other hand, the Turban Campaign (Sikhs against the EDL) receives widespread support from the Sikh community.

Secondly, the poster and Sunny Hundal are unfamiliar with Sikh marriage customs. Non-Sikhs are not allowed to get married in Gurudwaras. The only reason they have done so is due to unscrupulous committees who happily take the money and dont want to know who they are marrying. You wouldnt encourage illegal marriages, so why would you encourage marriages that shouldnt be allowed in the Gurudwaras? It’s not as if they were stopped from using the Registry Office.

Thirdly, why is there no mention of the fact that Sikhs were the victims in Sunny Hundal’s piece? If someone targets your community due to seeing you as being different and ‘inferior’, it’s no surprise they feel the need to defend themselves. Is it too controversial to even look in the direction of the muslim community? I think this piece highlights that.

Fourthly, I know many mixed race marriages do take place in Gurudwaras. Men and women adopt the name Singh or Kaur in order to prove they have converted. Your point about this being about race is disingenuous and reflects your own assumptions and bias rather than those of the people who were actually there. BTW, did you or Sunny or any other ‘journalist’ interview the people upholding the Anand Karaj Marriage Ceremony or the protesters seeking justice (who were mainly women) over the last week?

Rosalind // Posted 8 July 2012 at 8:31 pm

It annoys me how the Daily Mail assume that the EDL have a valid point, because they’re associating with the Sikh community. Ignoring how there is racism directed at Muslims from the Sikh community.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and two groups of racists don’t make a legitimate cause.

Shiha Kaur // Posted 9 July 2012 at 12:13 am

Henry – Sunny Hundal did not write about the second incident in the Gurdwara only the first. It is wrong to refer to Sikhs as victims when the sexual assault has only been alleged. If a community needs to defend itself it should not join forces with the EDL to carry out acts of vigilantism. Just because a Muslim allegedly assaulted someone does not mean that all Muslims are to blame for his actions and neither should the Sikh community assume that all Muslim men are out to get their women.

Weddings happen between Sikhs and non-Sikhs in Gurdwaras but it was only in this instance that these Sikhs chose to stop it. There are people who are Sikh in name only. Born into Sikh families with the name Singh or Kaur, who marry in a Gurdwara even though they do things that are not encouraged in the Sikh religion eg. only having a beard for the wedding then shaving straight after. Yet the Gurdwara is not closed when these Sikhs marry.

As I Sikh, I believe that closing the Gurdwara was the wrong thing to do. They barred entry to a place that is always supposed to be open to all. If these Sikh did not want the wedding to go ahead, they should not have used intimidation to stop it. I was not there at the time but my research on various Sikh forums and Sikh organisations on facebook gives different numbers of how many people were there and how many of them were women. Interestingly, a debate on the Asian Network found that more women than men thought that stopping the marriage was wrong.

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