SGPC should stop trying to be a bastion of righteousness, especially when it has enough skeletons in its own closets.
Sunny Leone is the face of Indians’ stunning hypocrisy.
And, the controversy raked up by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) surrounding Sunny Leone’s Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone is not just unnecessary, but must be condemned.
I remember being asked by someone in school why so many Sikh women have ‘Kaur’ as their last name. I had explained, with immense pride, the concept behind a title instead of a ‘surname’.
I only knew what my family had told me, but it made so much sense – the lack of a surname (both before and after marriage, if the woman so wishes) allowed women to inherit land without the fear of it going to ‘another’ family. It allowed them the freedom from the caste system’s trappings (rendered redundant by so many people’s insistence on using both the title and their caste names, sadly). Most importantly, at least for me, it meant that my name was unattached to any man’s name – not even my father’s. My identity wasn’t dependent on anyone but myself.
That’s a powerful concept, one of respect, autonomy, and recognition of the fact that women are whole, complete beings, something that is highlighted in Sikhism’s very core. Although it has, like most religious ideas, shifted away from the beliefs it was supposed to embody, the simple, logical principles behind ‘Kaur’ appealed to me despite the fact that I’ve never been religious per se. It has allowed me a community of sisters around the world, and that quiet sense of recognition when you chance upon another Kaur, often underlined with a word or two in Punjabi, is beautiful.
And, this is precisely why I think Sunny Leone is Karenjit Kaur.
Sunny Leone is many things to Indian audiences. She represents the taboo that raises our middle class morality’s hackles, and she is the triumph that makes us uncomfortable when it comes from any woman, especially her. The media has tried to break her spirit, insulted her, and insinuated that she’s a force of corruption.
We milk her porn career for our own narratives, and diminish her work as a successful businesswoman and humanitarian because that doesn’t fit the role of an ‘immoral woman’ we have cast her into. It’s awe-inspiring to see the kind of cool and sass with which Leone deals with hate and unwarranted nonsense thrown at her. She deserves better, especially when an organisation like the SGPC tries to pass moral judgments against her.
The SGPC has been mired in controversies ranging from corruption to embezzlement to petty politics almost since it was set up. It’s hard to take their ‘objections’ seriously when it is backed by people like Istri Akali Dal president Bibi Jagir Kaur – a woman who was first accused of conspiring to murder her daughter and forcing her to undergo an abortion, and then was convicted as her daughter’s kidnapper.
The SGPC’s objections are especially infuriating because it will only take cognisance of things it perceives as ‘harmful’ to Sikhism. This only seems to include things like Bollywood movies and web series’ titles because those impact the apparent perception of Sikhs in the mainstream.
I just have a few questions for the SGPC.
When will you look into the Sikh community and see what a mess we are internally? If entertainment is something you wish to meddle in all the time, when will you address the daaru-ladki-geddi pop culture instead of going after a woman?
When will you stop passing the buck to the Akal Takht over issues like allowing women to perform kirtan in Harmandir Sahib? When will you address the fact that female foeticide and infanticide, especially in Sikh families, still happens? When will the SGPC actually be geared towards the betterment of the community, and not the egos of its leaders?
Sunny Leone’s identity is inextricably tied to her childhood, and her being Karenjit Kaur shaped her in pivotal ways. And, none of us can deny her the ownership over her name. It is pitiful that this is a topic of contention, especially when we’re a community in a state of internal strife and in dire need to ask ourselves some difficult, pertinent questions.
I hope the SGPC stops trying to be a bastion of righteousness, especially when it has enough skeletons in its own closets to populate a graveyard. There are bigger battles to fight. This is definitely not one of them.
Harnidh Kaur is a poet and feminist.