Manvinder Kaur Gill: It Is Time For Change, Reflections From Sikh Women In Sikh Studies (Part Four)

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

This reflection is part four 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 fourth and final candid reflection based on the panel and on patriarchy within Sikh academia.

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

Manvinder Kaur Gill
January 21, 2021 | 2 min. read
Updated at 4:58pm EST

This past month, I had the pleasure of joining Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, Dr. Kamal Arora, and Asha Kaur Sawhey in conversation around the experiences of Sikh women in academic spaces, the role of the community in fostering inclusivity, and dreaming Sikh futures. 

I have had quite a whirlwind academic journey and it is still continuing. I have a background in biochemistry, I spent a year in France, I came back to complete my BA in religion and culture and went on to do my MA in religious studies where I studied the interactions of Sikhi and alcohol. Currently, I am finishing up the first year of my MSW and I am sure I will be back for more. 

I share this to highlight the nonlinearity that accompanies settling into a career but also to share the slight push out I have been feeling by the academy. During our conversation, I shared the lack (and abundance) of support I have felt throughout my journey. Although I have had strong mentors along the way, the larger structure of the academy does not seem fit to house Sikh scholars studying Sikhi. 

Looking outside of the ivory tower, conversations within the Sikh community also do not welcome diverse voices and expertise. I remain quiet about my work because I know what happens to women when they do share. As someone who does not present as Sikh, many are quick to point out my cut hair and uncovered head as if this somehow delegitimizes what I am saying as if women who keep their kes or cover their heads are immune from critique. However, ultimately, this silencing serves as a great loss for the growth of our community where important work is left in the margins.

As individuals who claim and take pride in the revolutionary and radical roots of Sikhi, ask yourself: is what you are doing, saying, or creating radical and revolutionary? 

The burden of change can no longer be the responsibility of the eldest daughter of immigrant households who are simultaneously supposed to break cycles of trauma whilst continuously being silenced. 

Pay attention to yourself, how you react to situations, take a moment, and to keep going. You will make mistakes, but I think if we wholeheartedly grapple with negative feelings, engage with these mistakes as moments of learning and internalize this idea, I think we are off to a great start.


Manvinder Kaur Gill is a community-based researcher whose work is centered on religion, culture, and health equity. Her MA thesis in religious studies from McMaster University interrogated the intersections of alcohol and Sikhi, particularly considering influences of colonialism, gender, and trauma. She is currently pursuing her Master of Social Work at the University of Toronto and is interested in understanding indigenous Panjabi and Sikh forms of healing for addiction treatment. She can be followed on social media @womanvinder.

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