The parties may be different, but when it comes to their priority, all women candidates in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) elections are united — it’s womanhood!
And given the fact that it is a religious body the agenda is being set for, the issue that represents equality for them is the right to perform kirtan at Harmandar Sahib, and, if deserving, the possibility of becoming head priest.
Their argument: the Sikh religion stands for equality to all, including women. What men can, women can.
Of the total 170 seats at stake in the election, 30 are reserved for women. The reservation started in the 1996 elections.
Now the women want it to deliver something substantial for them — equality in all religious matters, and, going beyond that, religion to be leveraged to bring them on a par with men in all social matters. They are demanding a proactive role of the SGPC in spheres such as health and education too.
Bibi Jagir Kaur, a former president of the SGPC who is again contesting the election on the SAD ticket from the Begowal constituency, was the first to formally raise the demand for the right to perform kirtan at Harmandar Sahib. She goes a step ahead: "Why can’t women be part of the Sikh clergy and even head of a Takht?" However, she agrees, anyone aspiring for such a post has to deserve it first.
Two other SAD candidates, Paramjeet Kaur from SAS Nagar and Harjinder Kaur from Chandigarh, have similar views. "I think we need to first convince the Sikh masses to accept the idea. But one thing we all know, the Gurus never discriminated against women," Harjinder Kaur says.
In 2004, Bibi Jagir Kaur, then SGPC president, had proposed a resolution for allowing women to perform kirtan in Harmandar Sahib, but no conclusion was reached. Another heavyweight, Kiranjot Kaur, already a two-time member, too wants to see women hymn singers.
Paramjeet Kaur says she would also work to bring about consensus on allowing women to reach the highest pedestal of the Sikh religion, which is heading a Takht.
Experts of the faith say there is no restriction on women in the Sikh Rehat Maryada (code of conduct) regarding doing kirtan at Harmandar Sahib. However, there is no explicit "permission" either. The Sant Samaj, which is supporting SAD in the SGPC elections, is, however, against allowing women doing kirtan.
"Woman is the mother, the birth-giver, she can perform equally well in every sphere. Women are also more sensitive to people’s needs and issues. Sikhism, in any case, stands for equality," Gurpreet Kaur, SAD candidate from Phagwara in her mid-forties, says.
She is one of the most educated candidates among the first-timers. She has resigned from the post of lecturer. But then, Ranjit Kaur, SAD (Amritsar) candidate from Hoshiarpur, who has no academic qualification to mention, also wants equal rights for women.
For the skeptics who ask what women can contribute, Kiranjot Kaur, a two-time member, has this question: "Why question the role of 30 women, why not all the 130-odd male members, many of who have not participated in discussions ever?"
Inputs: Harkirat Singh, Kamaldeep Singh Brar, Ravinder Vasudev, Vishal Rambani, Sukh Simran Singh Gandam, Anshu Seth, Monica Sharma, Shailee Dogra, Harpreet Kaur, Rajiv Bhaskar, PS Walia.