Can women be part of the Amrit Sanchar jatha? This issue came up at the recent meeting of a Malaysian Sikh organisation that has been running Sikh camps in the Southeast Asia region for more than five decades.
The Sikh initiation ceremony is the Khandey-da-Pahul or commonly called the amrit sanchar. As part of the process, sweetened water is prepared by a team of five Sikhs, who are themselves initiated, while reading a number of prescribed Sikh verses. The ceremony was introduced by the Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, in 1699.
As with many things in those days, women were probably not involved when preparing the Khandey-da-Pahul. But what about today? Is it allowed in the Sikh Reht Maryada (Sikh code of conduct)? And what does the Guru Granth Sahib (GGS) – the go-to guide for everything Sikhi – has to say about this topic?
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Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM) members came face to face with the question at its annual general meeting (AGM) held in Kuala Lumpur on 19 Sept. See here.
The Kuala Lumpur-based organisation allows women to take part in the initiation ceremony. For some years now, women has been roped in to be part of the Amrit Sanchar jatha, or the group that prepares the Khandey-da-Pahul (amrit). In many places, it is still a no-go area for women. The SNSM jatha, with the presence of women members, had prepared the Khandey-da-Pahul on a number of occasions in Malaysia and in neighbouring Indonesia and Thailand.
But they had been some pushbacks. At least two gurdwaras in the past had objected to women participation. At one gurdwara, the objection came from some of the ablakhis (persons coming for initiation, i.e. those who came to partake amrit). In the second incident, it involved an opening ceremony of a new gurdwara.
“In the first incident, we reluctantly agreed to carry on. After the ceremony, we explained to those who had just taken amrit that there was nothing wrong with the participation of women,” Jaswant Singh, the out-going coordinator of the SNSM Amrit Sanchar Jatha, told Asia Samachar.
“In the second incident, we were told a few days before the event that they didn’t want women in the Panj Pyare jatha. We tried talking to them, but to no avail. We then decided to decline the invitation.”
Due to the incidents, Jaswant and Hardev Singh Mahinder Singh, another key member of the SNSM Amrit Sanchar Jatha, decided to move a motion before the organisation’s general house to make a firm decision on the matter.
Here is the motion entitled ‘Proposal to stop discrimination in whatsoever manner against woman’:
“We being in Amrit Sanchar Jatha found that some Gurdwaras Committees or Sikh organisations believe that women should not be allowed to participate in the Amrit Sanchar Jatha and actively take part in the ceremony of Amrit Sanchar.
“We now propose and move this house that Sabha supports the active participation of women in Amrit Sanchar Jatha of SNSM whether it is opening of new Gurdwara, keeping of foundation stone or when Amrit Batha is prepared. All kinds of discrimination against women must be stopped. Equal status should be given to women as advocated by Sri Guru Granth Sahib.”
After a debate, the general house had passed with an overwhelming majority the motion to allow women participation in the Amrit Sanchar jatha. Only a handful members had opposed the motion.
SRM ON WOMEN PARTICIPATION
So, what is the SRM position? Jaswant, a lawyer by profession, said the Sikh code of conduct clearly states that women were allowed to take part in the Khandey-da-Pahul ceremony. “Both Guru Granth Sahib and the Sikh Reht Maryada are clear on this issue,” he said. “It can even be five ladies preparing the amrit batha.”
The Sikh initiation mentioned in Article 24 (b) of the SRM. It states: “At the place where ambrosial baptism is to be administered, the holy Guru Granth Sahib should be installed and ceremonially opened. Also present should be six committed baptized Sikhs, one of whom should sit in attendance of the Guru Granth Sahib and the other five should be there to administer the ambrosial baptism. These six may even include Sikh women. All of them must have taken bath and washed their hair.”
One of the members at the AGM had asked SNSM to seek Akal Takht clarification if women were explicitly allowed to join the five who prepare the Khandey-da-Pahul, or merely to join the Amrit Sanchar jatha to take on other roles, including as the granthi or the pehrey-dar (watch persons). The call was rejected by the majority.
COORDINATOR, NOT JATHEDAR
Jaswant, who took on the lead role of the SNSM Amrit Sanchar Jatha in 2018, said they have introduced a number of changes. To begin with, he does not badge himself as the jathedar (literally, leader of the group) but coordinator. They have about 15 members.
“When there is an event, around eight members would come forward. They would chose among them one person to take on the role of the Maukhey Dah Jathedar (ceremony chief). That person will lead the way and take decisions. Once the ceremony is over, he steps down form his role,” he said. This allows more members to take on leadership roles.
Moving forward, Jaswant said it was up to the newly elected SNSM jathedar and his team to observe and implement the overwhelming ‘yes’ for women participation in Amrit Sanchar. “We are prepared to serve, as always,” he said.
SNSM elects Harjinder Singh as new jathedar (Asia Samachar, 19 Sept 2020)
Justice Ginsburg on all-women Panj Pyare (Asia Samachar, 19 Sept 2020)