Identities redefined
Reviewed by Amarinder Sandhu

Sikhism and Women: History, Texts and Experience
Ed. Doris R. Jakobsh.
Oxford University Press.
Pages 383. Rs 395.

THE question of Sikh identity has intrigued many scholars. The issue of "Who is a Sikh?" becomes all the more complex when it is woven into the intricate tapestry of religion, culture or ethnicity. Many attribute colonial and pre-colonial factors and the Singh Sabha reform movement to the crystalisation of the Khalsa identity. Sikhism and Women not only acknowledges "true Sikhism" but also studies the fluidity that is obvious in "zat biradari" and allegience to"spiritual masters".

The construction of gender identities by theorists has been unstable. One of the first works of its kind, this book discerns the very nature of being Sikh and a woman. Written with a keen vision, the volume focuses on issues like religion, texts, culture and experiences that led to the identity formation among Sikh women. This exemplary collection of research basically underlines three themes: texts, Sikh women in India and women in the diaspora.

This book`A0 is a collection of writings by various scholars. Writing with conviction, Jakobsh and Nesbitt introduce the reader to the arena of Sikh identity and gender. In the recesses of one’s mind, the most outstanding characteristic of being a Sikh and a woman is the concept of izzat. This idea is`A0also brought to light in`A0Jakobsh’s jargon-free classroom`A0dialogue on Sikhism.

Using the challenging of the will of Rani Bagberi, Dhawan investigates the attitudes and ritualised behaviour of Sikh chieftans in the 18th century while stressing on women and the turban as symbols of the honour of a Sikh ruler. Malhotra studies the practise of female infanticide in British Punjab and links it to the practise of amniocentesis in this century. Fair examines three novels of Bhai Veer Singh that has female protaganists.

Maskiell traces the history of embroidery and`A0the uses of phulkari. She charts the transition of phulkaris from folk handicrafts to elements of Sikh heritage. In her aptly titled essay Lowly Shoes on Lowly Feet, Mooney`A0examines the complex issues of kinship, marriage, izzat and gender among the Jat Sikh community.

Analysing the matrimonial advertisements in daily newspapers, Kapur and Mishra study the experience of Sikh women within the context of arranged marriages. Reflecting on her own painful experience, Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh`A0pioneers`A0towards`A0the refeminisation of Sikh rituals.

In the diasporic context, Jhutti-Johal’s ethnographic study provides an insight into the Sikh women’s perception of their roles in religious institutions. Attempting to understand the psycho-social pressures on Sikh women, Nayar explores the pull between tradition and modernity.

Grewal focuses on Sikh women asylum seekers in the 1990s US. Elsberg traces the emergence of Yogi Bhajan in the US and analyses the role of women in organisations related to the eclectic Sikh dharma.

Walton-Roberts links Canada and India through the process of Punjabi marriage migration. Mand studies the paid employment of women and draws a sharp contrast between the employment of Jat Sikh women in Britain and Tanzania.

A lot of work has been done on the Sikh religion but there is a dearth of work on gender. This volume is an effort to fill in that gap. Studying women within religion is an issue most will avoid, however, publishing of this volume removes the obscurity surrounding Sikh women. Rather this book has opened doors for future research.