Chandigarh: The Punjab assembly Thursday took a significant step in ensuring equality in the Sikh clergy by calling for Sikh women to be allowed to perform kirtan (public prayer songs) at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
The assembly passed a resolution requesting the Akal Takht, the temporal Sikh body, and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which governs all historic Sikh shrines, to allow women to perform the prayer.
Women kirtanis and raagis who sing Sikh hymns (called shabads) are allowed to perform kirtan in several gurdwaras of Punjab but not at the Golden Temple, considered to be the most significant and venerated shrine in Sikhism.
The resolution was passed by a voice vote on the second and last day of the special assembly session held to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the first guru of Sikhs.
The resolution will now be formally sent to the Akal Takht and the SGPC.
While the passing of the resolution is an extremely significant step, the final decision in the matter, however, lies with the Akal Takht and the SGPC.
A divisive issue
Traditionally it is held that women performing kirtan inside the Golden Temple is against the Sikh rehat maryada (code of conduct) but the issue has led to wide differences between scholars and Sikh leaders.
Even though the resolution was passed unanimously Thursday, some of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLAs did protest during the discussion on the resolution Wednesday evening.
They said they were not against women performing kirtan in gurdwaras but pointed to the Sikh maryada.
Cabinet Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, who moved the resolution, countered them.
“There is no mention in Sikh history of any discrimination against women,” he said, lamenting that Sikh women were not allowed to perform Kirtan Sewa till now. He added that the resolution was aimed at eradicating gender discrimination in the religious matter.
Bajwa also pointed out that Guru Nanak had preached the promotion of an egalitarian society based on democratisation of rights and entitlements.
He was backed by AAP MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan who criticised Akali leaders for raising questions over the resolution brought by the government.
This, however, isn’t the first time that the issue has cropped up. In August 2005, the SGPC under Bibi Jagir Kaur, the first woman to hold the post, decided to allow women to perform kirtan at the Golden Temple. A month later, however, the decision was firmly rejected by the Damdami Taksal, the Sikh seminary considered to be the custodian and protector of the Sikh rehat maryada. The Damdami Taksal was supported by the Sant Samaj a conglomerate of Sikh saints.
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