Monday, 20 June 2011

Sikh Women & Hair - Past v Present

Many years ago, when I was new to Sikhi, I read a small pamphlet called ‘Gursikh Rehni’, written by Professor Amarjit Kaur. It had cast a profound effect on me. In particular this tract contained very strong arguments in favour of keeping Dastar for men and women. Today after perhaps 17-18 years, I came across this pamphlet and re-read it. I still found the write-up relevant and very positively strong in favour of Sikhi. Below is a translation of a small extract from this pamphlet. Remember that this tract was written in the era when majority of Indian (non Sikhs also) women used to keep uncut hair.

**************Translation Begins*********************
The thing to consider is - why does a Sikh woman keep kesh? Is it because majority of women in her country keep kesh (unshorned hair)? Now a days the non-Sikh women of Hind (India), due to influence of foreign countries, are cutting their hair and doing various kinds of fashion. God forbidden (Rabb na kare), if this disease spreads to this extent that like non-Sikh men of India, majority women also become victim to this disease (of cutting hair), then what will be the duty or action of Sikh women? The answer is clear. The Sikh amritdhari women like their Khalsa brothers will obey the the hukam of Guru Sahib and this way become accepted by Guru Sahib.

The Kesh of Sikh women, like other women, are not there for the purpose of expressing worldly beauty or for the sake of fashion statement. The Kesh of Sikh women are unshorned for the sake of a principle and as per hukam. Fashions change but principles don’t. Then if Sikh women can take a separate path (from other women) as far as keeping unshorned hair is concerned, then why does she need to imitate other women when it comes to how to keep care of the hair? For a Sikh woman, the reason for keeping unshorned hair is not same as that for a non-Sikh woman. In the eyes of a Sikh woman, unshorned hair are not only one of the main parts of the body but also the root of Sikhi. They have to keep kesh till their last breath.

The relation of Keeping kesh is directly with spiritual power and with Dasam Duaar. To alter or to remove this source of spiritual power for the sake of world or fashion is a big mistake. To remove the kesh considering them to be unimportant part of the body or to go to barbers to make different designs of hair, or to add artificial hair in case natural hair are not many, or to use kesh for other such fashion reasons is despicable and manmatt. What is Gurmat? Sabat Soorat Dastar Sira (keep body unaltered and wear Dastar on the head).
**************Translation Ends*********************

It’s amazing how much has changed today. Today if Bibi jee were to write this tract she would not have written the above. Today, what to talk about non-Sikh Indian women, even majority of women from Sikh households don’t keep uncut hair. It’s hard to find a women from Sikh background that does not desecrate her hair by cutting, plucking or colouring them. What is the ilaaj of this bimaari? Only Guru Sahib knows. Will the tide ever turn in our favour or is it a loosing battle we are fighting? I don’t know.

During the time this pamphlet was written, the issue was not whether Sikh women should keep hair or not. It was a given that Sikh women (and even non-Sikh Indian women) don't cut hair. Hair were considered beauty. If I am not wrong, in the Hindu society, widows were forced to cut hair in order to make them ugly. Today, the standards of beauty seem to have changed and hair are being cut in order to enhance beauty. In any case, the issue in those days was whether Sikh women should keep dastar in order to take care of the hair. So much has changed in the last 30 years or so. What's going to happen in the next 30 years, is beyond imagination.

Kulbir Singh

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