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Raji Kaur Aujla: We Fail The Mandeeps Because We Privilege The Ranjodhbeers
"The priority to support Sikh females against Punjabi males is long overdue"
Raji Kaur Aujla
August 10, 2022 | 5 min. read | Opinion
It is impossible to detach Sikhi from justice when the two are intricately embedded in our way of being. Social justice is within Guru’s hukam. We have mobilised global protests against oppression. Sikh Seva is at the forefront of natural and manmade disaster relief programs. Langar is the longest-running free kitchen, with thousands of volunteers feeding diverse communities worldwide. Sikhi is egalitarian, to become one with Shabad, and co-exist under the absolute truth of love.
Gender and caste equality are within Guru’s hukam as well. Despite this, many people that identify as Sikhs have become complicit in advocating for and protecting it. Mandeep Kaur’s suicide video went viral because it resonated. We are all too familiar with the type of male Mandeep was arranged to wed. We all know a Ranjodhbeer Singh Sandhu.
Ranjodhbeer exists in many households and in many corners of the Punjabi community. What’s worse? He is allowed to. He practises a carte blanche of abuse without any reprimand because society has marked the girl’s body as the sole bearer of family shame. He commits domestic abuse every day for eight years. He abeds suicide. He rarely gets caught.
My initial response was to write an emotional love letter to Mandeep’s two daughters on their mom’s courage. But Mandeep’s daughters should grow up in a world that protects them from men like their father. So instead, my focus shifted to address the systems that continue to create him.
The modern world was designed for men by men and each centre of power has integrated more complexities to uphold this: economic, capitalistic, digital, political, neoliberal, social, cultural, religious.
Ranjodhbeer was born into one of those centres whose stronghold on such power is irrefutably expanding in India. He is the benefactor of Punjabiyat and Jatt-based casteism that has an unfounded superiority complex placing all other castes as subordinate. Activating social hierarchies is fundamentally against Sikhi since it was founded upon the abolition of the segregational caste schema in late 15th century Hindustan. Indian society was created upon a misogynic, patriarchal public space and patrilineal private space. Sikhi was to abolish those spaces as well. The Punjabi family, as an institution, has favoured solely the boy child deepening intra-household inequalities against girls. Sikhi is to treat all as equal.
The dichotomous relationship between the Sikh doctrine and Punjabi culture has allowed many of the problems with Punjabiyat to continue.
As many members of the Sikh Punjabi community perpetuate endogamous marriages arranged on caste, class, and social aesthetic, we endanger our women by privileging men. Family wealth is passed down to him. He is exempt from household responsibilities. There is no social judgement on his actions whereas her every decision is surveilled and scrutinised. The boy is an investment to his parent’s future whereas the girl is a burden. Girls provide no social securities for their birth home in a day and age where dowries are still expected. All beliefs and systems are structured to enable his security at her cost.
The knowledge of such realities is understood. Perhaps that is why sex-specific abortions eliminating female fetuses in the state of Punjab rank among the highest in India. Consequently, Punjab now has one of the lowest sex ratios in the country as well. The boy child has no impetus to change the current world systems that are designed to birth and benefit him.
It is an interesting nullity. Spoiling our boys inevitably spoils their growth towards functioning adulthood thus endangering women that birth them.
In a growing act of resistance, more and more Sikh women are utilising higher education to delay expectations on the inevitability of marriage. Women are furthering their education, assuming more positions of power, attempting to break intergenerational traumas, and safeguarding independence.
Who is Mandeep Kaur then?
We all know her. She exists too. Mandeep was tortured for dowry and after not producing a boy child, harassed for compensation for the two girls she gave birth to. She could not leave Ranjodbheer. Her childhood home was no longer her own and her husband’s home would never be hers. She was not allowed to leave because society has not been designed with her or her daughters in mind.
And yet, the entire burden of household labour, reputation, honour, intra-household and social function was placed on her. This is a nonverbal understanding from the moment the child’s gender is revealed. She is a stateless citizen.
It takes courage, love, patience, and above all strength to wake up every morning for eight years to face assault. It takes absolute failed systems of societal, religious, and cultural institutions that lead to someone taking their own life because they were convinced of no better option. Do not mark her face as that of a victim. We are Mandeep Kaur or have a Mandeep in our life. She continues to exist.
Mandeep’s suicide is an attack on the very Sikh consciousness articulated earlier because it was perpetuated by a Punjabi Sikh male. We have to proactively untether Punjabiyat from Sikhi and mobilise Sikhi to protect internal Punjabi matters as efficiently as we fight external battles. The priority to support the Sikh female against the Punjabi male is long overdue. Patriarchy, as it is upheld by men and women, needs systematic dismantling. Ranjodhbeer’s mother abetted Mandeep’s suicide as much as he did.
Reform is required from the minuscule details of Punjabi homes to the policies that govern us. The enforcement of laws banning female foeticides or the practice of dowry needs to be audited and policed. Politicians should advocate for an old age pension for parents with no sons and give free education to their girls. There should be compulsory professional quotas for women, femme, queer and trans in order to achieve fair representation in the design of societal reforms.
Change should happen within our spaces of worship. A Gurudwara should be a safe haven for battered women as much as it has been for all other communities it serves. Education on Sikh principles needs to be regulated, taught, and practised by all individuals who lecture them. Women should hold equal to or more positions of power in Gurudwara committees to ensure that safety is a topmost priority and the community can assist disempowered women. Community organizations like the Punjabi Community Health Services (PCHS) should be heavily resourced to oversee the welfare and reintegration of domestic abuse survivors into society.
Perhaps most importantly, it is time for Sikh men to hold themselves and each other accountable. It is within their duty to empower girls and if we do not, Guru Nanak’s vision of an egalitarian society will remain unrealized.
We need to change that.
Raji Kaur Aujla is the founder of Willendorf Cultural Planning focusing on better representation and inclusion of IBPOC voices in Canadian arts and culture. Follow her on Instagram: @rajikauraujla
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