Dr. Kamal Arora: It Is Time For Change, Reflections From Sikh Women In Sikh Studies (Part Three)

Part three of a four-part series from four Sikh scholars who identify as women

This reflection is part three in a four-part series from four Sikh scholars - Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, Asha Sawhney, Dr. Kamal Arora, and Manvinder Gill - who identify as women. 

Below is the third candid reflection based on the panel and on patriarchy within Sikh academia.

You can find the first reflection, by Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, here, and the second reflection, by Asha Sawhney, here.


Dr. Kamal Arora
January 20, 2021 | 2.5 min. read

I hold a Ph.D. in Anthropology and have a background in gender and development.  My Ph.D. research was conducted on the contemporary circumstances and religious practices of Sikh women living in what is known as the “Widow Colony” in Delhi.

We Sikh women scholars are often caught between a rock and a hard place: we precariously negotiate racist and sexist treatment from ivory institutions, as well as restrictions on our academic freedom from community spaces. Not only our academic freedom - but our freedom as Sikh women wanting to learn and explore more about Sikhi and to question aspects of our faith, in the hopes of becoming better Sikhs and doing seva in the form of research.

Patriarchy is entangled in contemporary Sikh community dialogue. This puts women scholars in unsafe positions and serves to dishearten and silence us.  There are several experiences I have had in this work that falls under this patriarchal discourse such as:

  • Having someone post videos of me speaking at various engagements without my consent, and impersonate me online

  • Being attacked on Facebook by Sikh men for questioning why Sikh women were not present at political events

  • Receiving anonymous hate mail

  • Experiences of online trolling ranging from negative comments to name-calling and being told to shut up

  • Trolls messaging members of my family claiming that I was an agent involved in an “internal colonization project” among other ridiculous claims

There is a difference between constructive and engaged critique and knee-jerk reactions. By all means, engage with us on our work. Ask questions. Dialogue. Debate. But please recognize that Sikh women scholars are experts who have spent years researching and studying in their fields and deserve to be seen as such. 

As a Sikh scholar, I will be the first to admit there is a lot that I still do not know. Yet for some reason many men find it hard to admit that I might know more about a topic than they do.  Rather than being treated with respect, we are seen as uppity women with big mouths who speak too much. Frankly, when we critique patriarchy or question Sikhi, many men get inflamed. Why is it that when we question as Sikh women and as scholars, we get attacked in ways that armchair Sikh “experts” do not? 

Why can we not ask questions?

As academics, it is within our rights to question texts, whether they are secular or religious, from an academic perspective.  

As Sikhs, it is within our rights to question our beliefs and aspects of our religion. 

As Sikh academics, it is within our rights to conduct research and ask questions. 

Critiquing and questioning is not blasphemy. Rather, I think that this questioning and calling out patriarchy in Sikh institutions and communities leads to a deeper engagement and understanding of Sikhi – both historically and in the contemporary moment. As Sikh women scholars, we have a duty to share our research with our communities, but this becomes difficult when we are faced with intolerance and frankly, some men who have nothing better to do than troll us online.

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Dr. Kamal Arora holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from UBC, with a research focus on gender and Sikhism, and an MA in Gender and Development from the Institute of Development Studies. She served as Co-Director of the South Asian Studies Institute at UFV from 2017 - 2018 and has taught as a sessional instructor in Anthropology and Asian Studies at UFV, UBC, and KPU. Dr. Arora is an anti-racism and equity, diversity and inclusion advocate and now works in public health. You can find her on Twitter at @Kamarora.


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