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Homophobia Has No Place In Sikhism

10/02/2016 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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By Sukhdeep Singh

On 26 January, India's first transgender band launched their second song along with Sonu Nigam. The song titled "Sab Rab De Bande", was derived from a famous shabad from the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs, also worshiped as the living Guru by the Sikh Community. Written by Sant Kabir, it has been included in the Guru Granth Sahib, and signifies the amount of importance Sikh Gurus placed on the fact that all human beings are a creation of God and are equal.

While the song uses only two lines, it is worthwhile to reproduce the complete bani here:

Awwal Allah noor upaya qudrat keh sub banday

aik noor teh sub jag upajiya kaun bhale ko mandhe

(God created light of which all the beings were born

And from this light, the universe; so who is good and who is bad?)

Logaa bharam na bhoolahu maahi

khaliq khalq khalaq meh khaaliq poor rahio sarab tha'ee

(The creation is in the creator

And the creator is in the creation)

Maati aik anaik bhaanth ker saaji sajan haray

na kash poch maati kay bhanday na kash poch kunbharay

(The clay is the same, but the designer has fashioned it in various ways

Nothing is wrong with the pot of clay and there is nothing wrong with the potter)

Sub meh sacha aiko soee dis ka keya sub kuch hoyi

hukm pachanay saee ko janay banda kahiyeah soee

(The one true Lord abides in all and by his making everything is made

Whoever realises His command, knows the One Lord and he alone is said to be the Lord's slave)

Allah alkh na jaee lakhiya gur gur dheena meetha

kahay Kabir mair sanka naase sarab Niranjan

(The Lord Allah is invisible and He cannot be seen; the Guru has blessed me with this sweet brown sugar Says Kabir, my anxiety and fear have been taken away; I see the immaculate Lord pervading everywhere)

And yet, as the marginalised transgender community of India was trying to gain acceptance by using the shabad and message of equality of Guru Granth Sahib, the dharam ke thekedars, the custodians of faith, were out to undermine the very core message and the most essential tenet of Sikhism -- equality and inclusiveness.

Major newspapers across India reported on the decision of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to not honour Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during her visit to the Golden Temple because of her support for same-sex marriage. Wynne is also openly lesbian. SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar even said, "Offering her (Wynne) a siropa would be against Sikh ethics."

Their oft-repeated statement that the "Sikh religion does not accept same-sex marriage" wouldn't stand a chance if they tried to connect it to the teachings of the Gurus.

It must be pointed out that the SGPC have not specified the theological basis of their decision. One would expect that when such a body makes a decision which will affect millions of LGBT Sikhs, they would base their decision on the teachings of the Gurus, or the banis composed by them. Yet, alas, their own biases and homophobia are passed off as "Sikh ethics".

The first opposition to same-sex marriage from within the Sikh religion came in 2005 when Akal Takht jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti issued an edict asking Canadian Sikhs to oppose same-sex marriages in the country. The statements by the jathedar in 2005 completely lacked an understanding of homosexuality, which he referred to as "anti-human tendencies".

Apart from (mis)using their position to voice their own homophobia, neither the jathedar nor the SGPC have never gone on to explain the theological reasoning for their edicts and proclamations. Their oft-repeated statement that the "Sikh religion does not accept same-sex marriage" wouldn't stand a chance if they tried to connect it to the teachings of the Gurus.

In this respect, I would like to revisit three lines from the shabad above:

Maati aik anaik bhaanth ker saaji sajan haray

na kash poch maati kay bhanday na kash poch kunbharay

(The clay is the same, but the designer has fashioned it in various ways

Nothing is wrong with the pot of clay and there is nothing wrong with the potter)

These particular lines are nothing but a celebration of the diversity in nature. These lines assert that different people have different traits, and there is nothing wrong with either those people, or the Creator who made them; God resides in all of them. These traits, among other things, would also include sexuality. Yet, the high priests of Sikhism have been too blinded by their own homophobia to look at how Sikhism embraces diversity and doesn't discriminate among humans. There are countless other hymns, shabads, and banis that promote the message of universal brotherhood and human equality.

The high priests of Sikhism have been too blinded by their own homophobia to look at how Sikhism embraces diversity and doesn't discriminate among humans.

Another great virtue of Sikhism is the emphasis on self-acceptance. Sikh philosophy also exhorts its followers to accept the self that God created. It is this philosophy that forbids them from cutting their hair or trimming their beard, and changing their true god-gifted self. Acceptance of one's sexuality, which is inborn (and may I say God-given), is thus also essential to the acceptance that Sikh teachings preach. When leaders of the SGPC issue statements condemning homosexuality, they are basically asking LGBT Sikhs to not accept the way God made them, and any attempts at "changing the sexuality" are nothing but going against the will of the Creator.

The SGPC chief says that offering a siropa to Wynne would be against "Sikh ethics". Which particular Sikh ethics would have been violated by honouring her? Was she being denied a siropa because she is a lesbian, or was it because of her support of same-sex marriage?

In the absence of any clarity, one must look at how this decision went totally against the ethos of the Sikh religion. If she was being denied the honour because she was openly lesbian, then there could not be a more shameful act on their part. All throughout their lives, and through their teachings, Sikh Gurus have taught about treating everyone equal. At a time when caste, gender and religious discrimination were at their peak, the Sikh religion taught the concept of langar, to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. If the decision to not present Wynne with a siropa was because of her sexuality, it is discrimination, something Sikhism clearly forbids.

Has the SGPC never offered siropas to people who drink alcohol, or smoke, or have cut their hair short? These, after all, are things which Sikhism clearly prohibits.

If even for a minute one assumes that her sexuality stood against Sikh teachings, one must ask, has the SGPC never offered siropas to people who drink alcohol, or smoke, or have cut their hair short? These, after all, are things which Sikhism clearly prohibits. Many world leaders and eminent personalities have been honoured with siropas at the Golden Temple. If Sikh ethics weren't violated then, how are Sikh ethics getting violated now?

The other, and the more widely shared view of the decision to not honour Wynne with a siropa was that it was because of the Akal Takht's opposition to same-sex marriages. Wynne, it was reported, is a strong supporter of same-sex marriages in Canada. It is ironic though that the SGPC or Akal Takht should oppose same-sex marriage, given that Sikhism prescribes a gristi jeevan (married life), unlike many other religions where brahmacharya/asceticism is given a higher status. The Sikh wedding ceremony, called Anand Karaj means "Blissful Event" and marriage is considered a union of souls. Soul in Sikhism is genderless, and the lavan (marriage hymns) sung during the wedding are more about commitment to God and are genderless as well. It is baffling then that the same gristi jeevan is being opposed by SGPC for couples, who happen to be of the same sex.

The three main pillars of Sikhism are Naam Japo, Vand Chhako, Kirat Karo (meditate, share with others what you have, and lead an honest life). The Sikh religion also places a great deal of importance on Seva, or, serving humanity. This is a religion which has always stood up for the rights of the persecuted and minorities. The only religion whose holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, incorporates teachings from saints of other religions as well. The ninth Guru sacrificed his own life to protect another persecuted minority.

A true Sikh is a learner - perhaps it is time our religious leaders started learning a few things about sexual minorities as well.

Yet today, in stark contrast to all that which forms the heart of this young and beautiful religion, those who are supposed to hold up to the values of these religious teachings, are turning their back on another persecuted group, another minority. One must remind them that this blatant homophobia is not condoned by Sikhism, and they should stop passing off their own personal biases as Sikh ethics. A true Sikh is a learner - perhaps it is time our religious leaders started learning a few things about sexual minorities as well.

About the author: Sukhdeep Singh is the founder and editor-in-chief of Gaylaxy.

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This post was first published at Gaylaxy

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