Get real with sex education, says ‘Sikhi & Abortion’ report

Sikh charities can diversify their seva to include pregnancy and abortion related counseling and support, including financial support - SikhRi

Main photo: Pixabay. Insert: Sikhri report cover
By Asia Samachar Team | UNITED STATES |

Sikh institutions must address sex education in a realistic way and take into account that abstinence-only education has no proof of being effective, recommends a US-based Sikh institute when releasing a report on Sikhi and abortion.

The outfit also reminded Sikh institutions that comprehensive sex education has been proven to delay the onset of sexual debut (i.e. when adolescents start having sex for the first time) and decreased risk taking.

“Sikh charities can diversify their seva to include pregnancy and abortion related counseling and support, including financial support,” Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI) recommended in the 42-page report entitled ‘Sikhi & Abortion’.

It added: “Sikh institutions must provide resources addressing sexuality and parenting, and offer support in the form of counseling for those who seek it while making a decision or after having made a decision and have undergone the procedure.”

In one rather bold recommendation, it suggested that Sikh institutions should provide access to contraceptive services so fewer people seek abortions, while recognising that ‘many consider that in itself to be an issue’.

With the laws on abortions changing quickly in the U.S. and other countries, SikhRi board member Dr Pritpal Singh said that the issue was more relevant than ever.

“We felt obligated to take a stand by looking for answers in the wisdom of Sikhi as well as surveying over a thousand self-identifying Sikhs worldwide for a better understanding of our collective view today,” he said.

The report included the results of a global survey of 1,277 self-identified Sikhs from 28 countries.

It said the responses demonstrated how closely defined sex-selection and abortion are in the Panjabi and South Asian contexts.

The majority of respondents also indicated they believe life begins sometime after conception, thus going against the position of Gurmat, the report added.

The report was prepared by SikhRi co-founder and senior fellow research and policy Harinder Singh and researcher Jasleen Kaur, and edited by Inni Kaur.


Gurbani: Moving from the symbolic into the practical, one of the first questions considered in the debate around abortion is the question of when life begins. While there is no consensus scientifically or philosophically, the Guru Granth Sahib states that the womb is where the self fully develops, and at birth becomes human (GGS, p77).

When the Guru Granth Sahib does explicitly refer to anything close to what is commonly considered to be an abortion in the Panjabi Sikh community, what is really being referred to is infanticide. The cultural-historical context of infanticide for sex-selective purposes during the Guru period was fueled by a belief in the inherent lack of value of a female child. This is the deliberate killing of a female child after birth, which does not fall under the definition of abortion (though, in the present, a similar act would be sex-selective abortion, which occurs before birth — the main reason for the procedure in both the Chinese and Indian contexts).

In the Sikh metaphysical scheme, both parents are equally important in the gift of life, and the whole person is created in the womb. Within Gurbani, there is a clear focus on the generative power of the one who has a womb.

History: There is not much historical or legal precedent regarding abortion in general from the Guru period, but there are many historical records about female infanticide, which was and remains a serious issue in the context of Sikhs in South Asia.

Because of the prevalence of infanticide in the Guru period, the Gurus explicitly addressed the issue and condemned female infanticide. Guru Gobind Singh Sahib even directly issued a Hukamnama (royal order) against the practice (kurimar). Kurimar (“killers of female infants”; “girl-killers” here onwards) are those guilty of killing their female babies.

Throughout various rahitname issued both during the Guru period and beyond, a clear moral line is drawn on the issue of female infanticide. Sikhs are told they would be fined if found guilty of female infanticide and, in some cases, are told not to even associate with those who commit such acts.

Lifestyle: When it comes to the issue of female infanticide or feticide, the choice is often between abuse and honor; ridicule and prestige; vulnerability and security — people will choose honor, prestige, and security — and thus, internalizing the patriarchal devaluation of women, Panjabi women themselves will place a higher value on sons.

The practice of female feticide is a symptom of a larger systemic issue, and of practices and realities that set women up for harder lives: dowry practices, lower literacy rates, domestic violence and sexual abuse, and financial burden. In order to lessen the prevalence of a symptom, a community must first address its underlying cause.



All is not well at Akal Takht (Asia Samachar, 20 Oct 2016)


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