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  • Research title: Questions that unbalance me: exploring Sikh womanhood through sculpture.

    Sarbjit Kaur, studying a Masters in Research.

    Manchester Metropolitan University.

    MIRIAD: Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design.

    I am an artist, poet, researcher, teacher and academic. I am studying a Masters in Research and am looking at the issues surrounding the birth and attitude towards girls in South Asian communities who members call themselves Sikhs.

    The fields in which my studies are situated are South Asian women studies and Visual Art practice. The place of women in Sikh South Asian Culture is a controversial issue. Kaur Singh (1993) argues that the Sikh philosophy both uplifts and empowers women. However, Kaur Singh (1993, p.1) describes the paradoxical nature of society in India, where on one hand woman are ‘exalted’ to ‘Prime ministership’ and on the other hand ‘downgraded’ and ‘murdered with impunity for her dowry’. There are few academic books and articles written specifically about gender bias in Sikh culture. Singh (1996, pp.125-26) writes, ‘Sikhs are well aware of the gender bias, ill treatment of women and the practice of female feticide within their community, and many of them are speaking out against it. This problem is headlined and editorialized in Sikh publications’. Singh (1996) further adds that research is needed into the reasons for gender bias in Sikh communities as it opposes Sikh scripture. Gender bias is an important issue and affects many female Sikhs; including females I have grown up with, know today and myself. The lived realities of Sikh girls and women are not talked about out loud.

    Initially I set out to look at the unsung stories of Sikh women through history and highlight ‘herstory’. However, my research has uncovered an already growing expression of ‘herstory’, for example, the ‘Great Sikh Women’ 2012 calendar. Many contemporary artists, in order to promote the idea that Sikhism is egalitarian in its philosophy and to re-establish the balance of Sikh visual imagery, depict the involvement of women in the history of Sikhism. Examples are artists like Kawan Singh (2007) who painted ‘Mai Bhago and the forty liberated ones’. In addition, as in this example, the main aim of most female visual representations is to promote the side of Sikhism that states women and men are equal. Empowering? Yes. Very little visual imagery explores the paradoxes, contradictions and complexities of the place of women in South Asian Sikh culture from the lived experiences of women. Purewal (2010, p. ix) states in relation to academic discourse around son preference ‘it ignores the more sinister, mundane expressions of son preference that exist within people’s everyday lived realities, the images that are transmitted and the gendered values, expectations and aspirations that circulate in society’. Purewal (2010) (who is from a Sikh community) writes of the negative responses she got from the community when her daughters were born. Such comments are very similar to the ones, which I grew up with. People would say, ‘Kuri hoei? (it’s a girl?), ‘Koi gal nain’ (never-mind) and ‘I’ll pray next time you have a son’. There is a lack of representations that explore these every day experiences in a socio-political context. My research works with the proposition that questioning the experiences of Sikh women through visual art would allow for a more holistic depiction of what is happening in Punjabi communities whose members include Sikhs.

    In the conference Imperialism and South Asia (The South Asian People's Unity Forum), Wilson (2009) explains certain terminology for those she says ‘who perhaps are not intellectuals’ or are not fortunate enough to ‘be able to read a lot of books’. Not everyone is an academic and knows how to access academic writings and research. Imagery can be more accessible and communicative. Ivan Turgenev (cited in Mieder, 2004, p. 79) wrote, ‘A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound’. The current term used is of course, “a picture speaks a thousand words”. Although personal written accounts are vital, visual representation can invoke discussion and explore an issue from a new angle. And perhaps those who are not academics, in the Sikh community, who may form part of an audience, can use the art as a vehicle to reflect and create conversation around the issues of son bias.

    Sikh philosophy states:

    (Guru Nanak Dev Ji – Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji:)

    Raag Aasaa Mehal 1, Ang 473: Sikhi To The Max)

    Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Guru of the Sikhs spoke these words. They are well known and were very bold for the time and place in India, where often a woman’s place was ‘at the bottom of a shoe’.

    Growing up with the philosophy of Sikhi, I held it in high regard. I am a feminist and the 10 Guru’s of the Sikh faith are often viewed as such. However what un-nerved me, was the way in which girls, women, boys and men in my South Asian Sikh community and the wider Sikh community did not embody or were not able to embody this philosophy. Of course there were some beings who did and who do in fact embrace it. I am just speaking of those who did not and do not. There was (and still is) a lot of male bias. When I was young I looked at images on the walls of Sikh Gudwara, there were more images of men than women. This is still the case today. Although there are some Gudwaras which have started to put images of women from Sikh ‘herstory’ up. Also when talks or Sikh camps happen in Gudwaras, there are usually more male speakers and sometimes no female representative. The PowerPoints or presentations made often contain no female references. Plus there are many quotes from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji that exalts women and again theses are not discussed in detail. There are many female Sikh role models to use as examples in talks and conferences. A list of influential Sikh women is shown below. This list is only a small sample of women, but there many more.

    Bebe Nanaki, Bibi Amro Ji Bibi Anup Kaur Ji, Bibi Agya Kaur Ji, Bibi Baghel Kaur, Ji Bibi Balbir Kaur Ji Bibi Basant Lata Ji, Bibi Bhagbhuri Ji, Bibi Bhani Ji Bibi Dalair Kaur Ji, Bibi Deep Kaur Ji, Bibi Dharam Kaur Ji, Bibi Harnam Kaur Ji, Bibi Harsarn Kaur Ji Bibi Kaulan Kaur Ji, Bibi Khem Kaur Ji, Bibi Nirbhai Kaur Ji, Bibi Prem Kaur Ji, Bibi Rajinder Kaur Ji, Bibi Rajni Ji, Bibi Ranjit Kaur Ji, Bibi Sahib Kaur Ji Bibi Samsher Kaur Ji, Bibi Shushil Kaur Ji, Bibi Viro Ji, Mai Kishan Kaur Ji, Mai Bhago Ji, Mai Kabul Wali Ji, Mata Gujri Ji, Mata Sundri Ji, Mata Khivi Ji, Mata Suhag Bai Ji, Mata Sulakhni Ji Mata Sundri Ji, Mata Tripta Ji, Rani Sada Kaur Ji, Rani Jindian Ji, Bibi Amrit Pritam,, Dr Inderjit Kaur, Bibi Prakash Kaur, Bibi Amrit Singh, Dr Anatkali Kaur Honoryar.

    (Sikhchic, 2012/The Sikh Directory, 2010)

    It is awful that people in India and the UK go to the extent of killing their daughters before or after birth, in the pursuit of wanting sons.

    (Pandey, 2011)

    This graph shows the worst areas of girl to boy ratio in different places around India (Pandey, 2011). The Punjab, where the majority of Sikhs are based has one of the worst figures, although there has been an improvement in the male to female ratio between the years 2001 to 2011. Although further research needs to be done to clarify the exact number of feticides/infanticides carried out by members of Sikh communities. The graph below shows the over all decline of girls aged 0-6 in India from 1961. See how the ratio of girls to boys is desperately low in 2011.

    (Pandey, 2011)

    In Amir Khan’s show Satyamev Jayate – Female Foeticide - aired on the 6th of May 2012, the brutality and consequences of female feticide and infanticide are systematically described. Examples are:

    • Abuse to pregnant woman

    • Murder of newly born girls

    • Woman trafficking

    • The buying and selling of wives

    • Gang rapes

    • Rejection and child neglect

    (Khan, 2012)

    The killing of female fetuses, infanticide, rejection of daughters, negative attitudes toward girls, women, females, male bias, son preference, needs to and must stop.

    My research works with the premise that art steeped in self-expression, can resonate more universal and collective experiences. Adorno (2004, p. 173) eloquently discusses the interrelatedness of ‘I’ and the collective spirit of the aesthetics of images, stating that when ‘artwork far surpasses the mere subject’ it is ‘the eruption of the subject’s collective essence’. Polanyi (cited in Smith, 2003) believed that creative acts – especially those of discovery, are full of strong personal feelings. He argued that such exploration is charged with knowledge and truth, which should be on a par with knowledge associated in the field of science.

    My work deals with my personal encounters of son preference in the Sikh community as well as subtly dealing with the accounts of others. The hope is if I share my story visually, maybe others will feel they can share theirs, plus I hope the work becomes a catalyst to create conversations and add to the present discussions in this field to help influence change both nationally and internationally.

    I hope you can support and view my work when it is shown.

    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ke Fatheh.

    For more information on Sarbjit Kaur please visit the following links:



    References and further study

    Adorno, W. T. (2004). Aesthetic Theory. (N. E. edition, Ed.) Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.

    Khan, A. (2012, May 06). Youtube: Satyamev Jayate - Female Foeticide - 6th May 2012. (A. K. India, Producer, & Amir Khan Production Pvt Ltd) Retrieved Sept 14, 2012, from

    Mieder, W. (2004). Proverbs: A Handbook. Wesport, London, USA, UK: Greenwood Press.

    Pandey, G. (2011, May 23). India's unwanted girls. Retrieved Oct 20, 2012, from BBC NEWS: South Asia:

    Purewal, N. K. (2010). Son Preference. Sex Selection, Gender and Culture in South Asia. Oxford, New York, UK, USA: Berg.

    Sikhchic. (2012). 10 Sikh Women you should know and why you should know them. Retrieved Oct 10, 2012, from

    Sikhi To The Max. (n.d.). Gurbani search. Retrieved Oct 15, 2012, from www.sikhitothe

    Singh, B. (1996, April - June). Female Feticide. Abstracts of Sikh Studies , 125 - 26.

    Singh, N.-G. K. (1993). The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent. New York, Cambridge, Melbourne, USA, Melbourne, Austrailia: Cambridge University Press.

    Smith, M. K. (2003). Infed. Retrieved from The encyclopedia of informal education:

    The Sikh Directory. (2010). The Sikh Directory - 2010. The Sikh Directory Ltd.

    The South Asian People's Unity Forum. (2009, April 24). Imperialism and South Asia. (LeftStreamed, Producer) Retrieved August 12, 2012, from Vimeo:



  • The GM genocide: Thousands of Indian farmers are committing suicide after using genetically modified crops

    When Prince Charles claimed thousands of Indian farmers were killing themselves after using GM crops, he was branded a scaremonger. In fact, as this chilling dispatch reveals, it's even WORSE than he feared.

    The children were inconsolable. Mute with shock and fighting back tears, they huddled beside their mother as friends and neighbours prepared their father's body for cremation on a blazing bonfire built on the cracked, barren fields near their home.

    As flames consumed the corpse, Ganjanan, 12, and Kalpana, 14, faced a grim future. While Shankara Mandaukar had hoped his son and daughter would have a better life under India's economic boom, they now face working as slave labour for a few pence a day. Landless and homeless, they will be the lowest of the low.

    Human tragedy: A farmer and child in India's 'suicide belt'

    Shankara, respected farmer, loving husband and father, had taken his own life. Less than 24 hours earlier, facing the loss of his land due to debt, he drank a cupful of chemical insecticide.

    Unable to pay back the equivalent of two years' earnings, he was in despair. He could see no way out.

    There were still marks in the dust where he had writhed in agony. Other villagers looked on - they knew from experience that any intervention was pointless - as he lay doubled up on the ground, crying out in pain and vomiting.

    Moaning, he crawled on to a bench outside his simple home 100 miles from Nagpur in central India. An hour later, he stopped making any noise. Then he stopped breathing. At 5pm on Sunday, the life of Shankara Mandaukar came to an end.

    As neighbours gathered to pray outside the family home, Nirmala Mandaukar, 50, told how she rushed back from the fields to find her husband dead. 'He was a loving and caring man,' she said, weeping quietly.

    'But he couldn't take any more. The mental anguish was too much. We have lost everything.'

    Shankara's crop had failed - twice. Of course, famine and pestilence are part of India's ancient story.

    But the death of this respected farmer has been blamed on something far more modern and sinister: genetically modified crops.

    Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds instead.

    Distressed: Prince Charles has set up charity Bhumi Vardaan Foundation to address the plight of suicide farmers

    Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiralling debts - and no income.

    So Shankara became one of an estimated 125,000 farmers to take their own life as a result of the ruthless drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops.

    The crisis, branded the 'GM Genocide' by campaigners, was highlighted recently when Prince Charles claimed that the issue of GM had become a 'global moral question' - and the time had come to end its unstoppable march.

    Speaking by video link to a conference in the Indian capital, Delhi, he infuriated bio-tech leaders and some politicians by condemning 'the truly appalling and tragic rate of small farmer suicides in India, stemming... from the failure of many GM crop varieties'.

    Ranged against the Prince are powerful GM lobbyists and prominent politicians, who claim that genetically modified crops have transformed Indian agriculture, providing greater yields than ever before.

    The rest of the world, they insist, should embrace 'the future' and follow suit.

    So who is telling the truth? To find out, I travelled to the 'suicide belt' in Maharashtra state.

    What I found was deeply disturbing - and has profound implications for countries, including Britain, debating whether to allow the planting of seeds manipulated by scientists to circumvent the laws of nature.

    For official figures from the Indian Ministry of Agriculture do indeed confirm that in a huge humanitarian crisis, more than 1,000 farmers kill themselves here each month.

    Simple, rural people, they are dying slow, agonising deaths. Most swallow insecticide - a pricey substance they were promised they would not need when they were coerced into growing expensive GM crops.

    It seems that many are massively in debt to local money-lenders, having over-borrowed to purchase GM seed.

    Pro-GM experts claim that it is rural poverty, alcoholism, drought and 'agrarian distress' that is the real reason for the horrific toll.

    But, as I discovered during a four-day journey through the epicentre of the disaster, that is not the full story.

    Death seeds: A Greenpeace protester sprays milk-based paint on a Monsanto research soybean field near Atlantic, Iowa

    In one small village I visited, 18 farmers had committed suicide after being sucked into GM debts. In some cases, women have taken over farms from their dead husbands - only to kill themselves as well.

    Latta Ramesh, 38, drank insecticide after her crops failed - two years after her husband disappeared when the GM debts became too much.

    She left her ten-year-old son, Rashan, in the care of relatives. 'He cries when he thinks of his mother,' said the dead woman's aunt, sitting listlessly in shade near the fields.

    Village after village, families told how they had fallen into debt after being persuaded to buy GM seeds instead of traditional cotton seeds.

    The price difference is staggering: £10 for 100 grams of GM seed, compared with less than £10 for 1,000 times more traditional seeds.

    But GM salesmen and government officials had promised farmers that these were 'magic seeds' - with better crops that would be free from parasites and insects.

    Indeed, in a bid to promote the uptake of GM seeds, traditional varieties were banned from many government seed banks.

    The authorities had a vested interest in promoting this new biotechnology. Desperate to escape the grinding poverty of the post-independence years, the Indian government had agreed to allow new bio-tech giants, such as the U.S. market-leader Monsanto, to sell their new seed creations.

    In return for allowing western companies access to the second most populated country in the world, with more than one billion people, India was granted International Monetary Fund loans in the Eighties and Nineties, helping to launch an economic revolution.

    But while cities such as Mumbai and Delhi have boomed, the farmers' lives have slid back into the dark ages.

    Though areas of India planted with GM seeds have doubled in two years - up to 17 million acres - many famers have found there is a terrible price to be paid.

    Far from being 'magic seeds', GM pest-proof 'breeds' of cotton have been devastated by bollworms, a voracious parasite.

    Nor were the farmers told that these seeds require double the amount of water. This has proved a matter of life and death.

    With rains failing for the past two years, many GM crops have simply withered and died, leaving the farmers with crippling debts and no means of paying them off.

    Having taken loans from traditional money lenders at extortionate rates, hundreds of thousands of small farmers have faced losing their land as the expensive seeds fail, while those who could struggle on faced a fresh crisis.

    When crops failed in the past, farmers could still save seeds and replant them the following year.

    But with GM seeds they cannot do this. That's because GM seeds contain so- called 'terminator technology', meaning that they have been genetically modified so that the resulting crops do not produce viable seeds of their own.

    As a result, farmers have to buy new seeds each year at the same punitive prices. For some, that means the difference between life and death.

    Take the case of Suresh Bhalasa, another farmer who was cremated this week, leaving a wife and two children.

    As night fell after the ceremony, and neighbours squatted outside while sacred cows were brought in from the fields, his family had no doubt that their troubles stemmed from the moment they were encouraged to buy BT Cotton, a geneticallymodified plant created by Monsanto.

    'We are ruined now,' said the dead man's 38-year-old wife. 'We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.'

    Villagers bundled him into a rickshaw and headed to hospital along rutted farm roads. 'He cried out that he had taken the insecticide and he was sorry,' she said, as her family and neighbours crowded into her home to pay their respects. 'He was dead by the time they got to hospital.'

    Asked if the dead man was a 'drunkard' or suffered from other 'social problems', as alleged by pro-GM officials, the quiet, dignified gathering erupted in anger. 'No! No!' one of the dead man's brothers exclaimed. 'Suresh was a good man. He sent his children to school and paid his taxes.

    'He was strangled by these magic seeds. They sell us the seeds, saying they will not need expensive pesticides but they do. We have to buy the same seeds from the same company every year. It is killing us. Please tell the world what is happening here.'

    Monsanto has admitted that soaring debt was a 'factor in this tragedy'. But pointing out that cotton production had doubled in the past seven years, a spokesman added that there are other reasons for the recent crisis, such as 'untimely rain' or drought, and pointed out that suicides have always been part of rural Indian life.

    Officials also point to surveys saying the majority of Indian farmers want GM seeds - no doubt encouraged to do so by aggressive marketing tactics.

    During the course of my inquiries in Maharastra, I encountered three 'independent' surveyors scouring villages for information about suicides. They insisted that GM seeds were only 50 per cent more expensive - and then later admitted the difference was 1,000 per cent.

    (A Monsanto spokesman later insisted their seed is 'only double' the price of 'official' non-GM seed - but admitted that the difference can be vast if cheaper traditional seeds are sold by 'unscrupulous' merchants, who often also sell 'fake' GM seeds which are prone to disease.)

    With rumours of imminent government compensation to stem the wave of deaths, many farmers said they were desperate for any form of assistance. 'We just want to escape from our problems,' one said. 'We just want help to stop any more of us dying.'

    Prince Charles is so distressed by the plight of the suicide farmers that he is setting up a charity, the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation, to help those affected and promote organic Indian crops instead of GM.

    India's farmers are also starting to fight back. As well as taking GM seed distributors hostage and staging mass protests, one state government is taking legal action against Monsanto for the exorbitant costs of GM seeds.

    This came too late for Shankara Mandauker, who was 80,000 rupees (about £1,000) in debt when he took his own life. 'I told him that we can survive,' his widow said, her children still by her side as darkness fell. 'I told him we could find a way out. He just said it was better to die.'

    But the debt does not die with her husband: unless she can find a way of paying it off, she will not be able to afford the children's schooling. They will lose their land, joining the hordes seen begging in their thousands by the roadside throughout this vast, chaotic country.

    Cruelly, it's the young who are suffering most from the 'GM Genocide' - the very generation supposed to be lifted out of a life of hardship and misery by these 'magic seeds'.

    Here in the suicide belt of India, the cost of the genetically modified future is murderously high.

    Read more:



  • Take it away, Les: Hardeep Singh Kohli terminates BBC radio interview

    Is this the worst radio interview ever? It's writer and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli being interviewed about his new book, Indian Takeaway, on the Les Ross show on BBC WM. At least, it's supposed to be about his book, but ends up more like an Alan Partridge tribute act. "Are you Asian British Scottish, or British Scottish Asian? It's very important to get them all in the right order these days isn't it?" asks Ross. It starts off bad, and just keeps getting worse. "I think we need to take it to a higher plane, not that your book isn't on a higher plane already."

    See what we mean? Ross then confuses Kohli's comedy memoir about food with his BBC Radio 4 series about the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. "I thought it was that with fish and chips thrown in," offers Ross. No, replies the author. One's funny, the other's about genocide. "I'm not clear what's happening here. Have I missed the point?" asks a bemused Kohli, seconds before he terminates the interview. "You've been in broadcasting before," replies Ross. "Surely you know what's happening?" Yes, it's called a car crash. A great big car crash. A-ha!



  • Meera Syal on the BBC about the hidden painting of a Panjabi Prince

    Meera Syal searches for the hidden paintings which reveal the extraordinary story of a Norfolk Prince. At the heart of the film is the story of Frederick Duleep Singh, son of the Last Maharaja of the Punjab. Despite being disinherited by the British Establishment, he spent his life trying to become one of them. The story unfolds through an extraordinary collection of paintings that he bought - bargain hunt style - from the landed gentry, and then donated to the nation.




  • A new website on a Panjabi scholar of the 19th century

    At the turn of the 1800's the British would make inroads into the various areas of India. One of these areas was that of the Panjab. A fertile area which had a history going back 1000's of years. As part of the migration of British writers, translators and army personnel was one Dr John Leyden from Scotland. As part of his translation work undertaken in India, he would work on several Panjabi texts.

    The new website will present these translations for the first time to show the common ground of the British and the people of Punjab. Dr Leydens work reveals that his work on the Punjab was ths start of Punjabi histiography.



  • Exciting new book!! Sikhism in a global context by Pashaura Singh

    Sikhism in a Global Context, Edited by Pashaura Singh, to be released by Oxford University Press IN January, 2012

    The growth in Sikh studies worldwide has led to greater attention to Sikh history and culture in recent times. Written in honour of W.H. McLeod and N. Gerald Barrier, two pioneers of Sikh studies, this book goes beyond the usual studies of Sikh philosophy and religious practice. The essays explore Sikh historiography, identity, music and ethics, the Sikh diaspora, and the history and the current state of scholarship in the area of Sikh studies. They represent a diverse range of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of Sikhism, including religious studies, historical studies, anthropology, sociology, gender and ethnic studies, ethnomusicology, diaspora studies, and ritual and performance studies. They also analyse how local experiences confirm yet complicate notions of global and/or diasporic Sikh belief and practice.This book will be of considerable interest to scholars and students of Sikh studies, history, religion, diaspora studies as well as general readers. After the deaths of W. H. Mcleod and N Barrier, Bhai Pashaura Singh is now the leading expert of Sikh Studies in the West.

    Table of Contents



    Introduction by Pashaura Singh

    1.The Legacy of History and Contemporary Challenges by N. Gerald Barrier

    2.The Guru Granth Sahib: A Global Reservoir by Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh

    3.Studying the Sikhs: Thirty Years LaterWhere Have We Come, Where Are We Going? by Doris Jakobsh

    4.Sikh Militancy and Non-violence by Paul Wallace

    5.Musical Chaunkis at the Darbar Sahib: History, Aesthetics, and Time by Pashaura Singh

    6.'Except the True Name, I Have No Miracle': Modern Sikh Understandings of the Miraculous by Susan E. Prill

    7.Diaspora Philanthropy: The Case of Sikhs Giving Back to Punjab by Verne A. Dusenbery and Darshan S. Tatla

    8.We are not Sikhs or Hindus: Issues of Identity among the Valmikis and Ravidasis in Britain by Opinderjit Kaur Takhar

    9.The Other Sikhs: The Sikhs of Shillong by Himadri Banerjee

    10.Gurbani Kirtan and the Performance of Sikh Identity in the Southern California Diaspora by Charles Townsend

    11.Home and the World: The Nagar Kirtan and Sikh Diaspora by Gurveen Kaur Khurana

    12.Sikh Material Culture: Children's Literature and Sikh Identity by Toby B. Johnson


    Notes on Contributors




Pashaura Singh

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