Asha Sawhney: It Is Time For Change, Reflections From Sikh Women In Sikh Studies (Part Two)

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

This reflection is part two 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 second candid reflection based on the panel and on patriarchy within Sikh academia.

You can find the first reflection, by Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, here.

Asha Sawhney
January 19, 2021 | 2 min. read

It is an absolute honor and privilege to speak alongside Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, Dr. Kamal Arora, and Manvinder Kaur Gill on our experiences as outspoken women in the Sikh community. 

As Sikh women we are never afforded legitimacy, no matter our demonstrated expertise, and instead, we are faced with extreme levels of scrutiny that quickly snowball into harassment as not only our legitimacy, but our bodies, Sikh practice, relationships, and other intimate details of our life are picked over by disgruntled men who leverage the captive audience of social media against us. 

Every Sikh will proudly share that Sikhi is a faith built on the utmost gender equality. Yet the day to day actions of our community are a betrayal of these values. To summarize what I expressed in the panel, I would like to ask our community some questions. 

Why is it that when a Sikh woman speaks up on a social issue, she is smeared for being an uppity academic, yet we universally applaud men with engineering degrees or MBAs? 

Why is it that we receive more scrutiny for our academic writings than men with social followings in the hundreds of thousands do? 

Why are our words perceived as dangerous to the panth, but abuse and sexual violence wielded by so many men is accepted? 

Why are our questions perceived to be threats to our community’s image, but men who run multi-million dollar institutions are given a free pass with no calls for accountability, in a complete corruption and cooptation of the principle of sewa? 

Every one of these questions resonated with our audience because these same narratives, double-standards, and petty attacks have been used by countless individuals and organizations throughout our community’s history to silence and suppress the voices of women, of LGBT Sikhs, of all those who dare to demand better and seek to end the cycles that prevent us from achieving meaningful change. 

The panel we facilitated was healing, but only a tiny scrape at the tip of the iceberg. I urge anyone who may not have been at the panel who finds solace in these words to reach out to us and to each other. Let’s harness the momentum of our shared experiences and emotions. 

In a world that has deemed our emotions feminine and therefore weak, reclaiming them is an act of power. 

Share Baaz

Asha Sawhney is a Sociology PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests are social movements, migration, and urban survival in South Asia and Iran. She has been working in a research and mutual aid capacity with the Afghan Sikh community since 2017. Prior to starting at UIUC, she received a BA in Political Science and International Studies at Northwestern University and worked as a content creator for the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI). You can find Asha on Twitter at @Asha_MKS.

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