By Pritpal Singh Khalsa
Equality among all people is one of the primary principles of Sikh Dharma introduced by the 1st guru, Shri Guru Nanak Dev. From his first utterance after his moment of liberation, Shri Guru Nanak Dev ji preached, as there is only One God, so we are all equal, regardless of how we worship. He was a visionary in the way he encouraged people to rise above any socially imposed limitation and work for the emancipation of mankind as one entity.
Guru Nanak was also a social revolutionary in a way that he addressed the rights of women, as during his time women were treated like property, but Guru Nanak elaborated on his concept of equality by unequivocally declaring that women are equal to men. Guru Amar Das extended the importance of treating women with equality even further by declaring that women should not veil their faces (Purdah) in public. He also banned female infanticide and the practice of voluntary or forced self-immolation of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband (Sati), and encouraged widows to remarry. It was during the reign of Guru Amar Das that women were included in the Manji and Piri programs of spiritual stewardship, where Guru Amar Das chose 146 leaders, of which 52 were women, to carry the light of Sikh Dharma teachings to people far and wide.
When the 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh formed the Khalsa (those who live in purity of consciousness), he made no distinction between men and women – expecting both to live with the same discipline. At that time many women even fought and died on the battlefield in equal roles of leadership with their male counterparts. It has been documented that women also proudly wore turbans, along with the other 5 K’s at that time.
Sikh Dharma began in India, and reached far and wide, which has a strongly Hindu-oriented social structure. From its ancient origins, Hinduism has evolved with a rigid caste system. But Guru Nanak specifically instructed his Sikhs not to accept the caste system. Sikhs are encouraged not to use family names that are associated with particular caste groups and, instead, to use Singh (for men) and Kaur (for women). No one is thought to be of greater or lesser value because of the family into which they may have been born. There are no practices or rituals in Sikh Dharma that may only be performed by a person of any particular birth. All activities are open to all people.
Guru Nanak believed everyone is equal, no one have no power to differentiate between the black and white between the Mohammedan and Hindu, between the Christian and a Buddhist, between the tall and the short, between having the long hairs and the short hairs, you have absolutely no difference and you cannot preach difference and thus you cannot rule and others cannot be ruled.
Guru Ram Das, the 4th guru, designed the most sacred of Sikh shrine, the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) with four doors, each facing one of the four cardinal directions, to signify that the temple, and the path of Sikh Dharma, is open to people from all places and origins. Race and ethnicity are also not recognized as being of importance. As everyone is equal and same in the eyes of God, then in that Divine vision, we all have unlimited potential, we are all equal; we are all One.
All those who breathe are brethren. If you can live on this you can all live in peace and transform the world to be worthy of life.
Writer is Director of Dharmic Education, Sikh Dharma International