The Status and Role of Women in Hinduism and Sikhism Renee Thompson 996976438 Professor Shiu Monday July 4th, 2011. Religion plays a crucial role in the daily lives of millions of people. This is even more evident in India. Hinduism and Sikhism are two very prominent religions in this nation (Pinkham, 1967). These two religions are closely linked but also have many distinct practices. Issues of the position of women in society, attitudes towards the caste system, and methods of worship are critical aspects of both religions. Among the many distinct practices that are shared between the religions of Hinduism and Sikhism is the status of women.
In Hinduism, women can attain a certain status in that they can either become a nun or priestesses. In Sikhism, women do not attain a certain status within the Sikh culture because to them women are equal to men in the eyes of their God (Pinkham, 1967). In this essay I will argue that by having such opposing views towards women in the Hinduism and Sikhism culture, it gives a clear understanding of the way in which women are portrayed among Hindu’s and Sikhs; as these two dominant religions have very different conceptions of women as well as their level of importance within their cultures.
One of the reasons why religion continues to be a critical factor today is due to its influence on status and social hierarchies. The status of women and attitudes towards the caste system in the traditional Hinduism and Sikhism involve some very important differences (Wadley, 1977). The role of women in marriage traditional Hindu beliefs is that of submissiveness and obedience. This traditional role of serving the husband and taking care of the children is emphasized in figures from Hindu mythology such as Sita who was the beautiful wife of Rama, the hero of Ramayana; and Savitri which symbolizes a faithful wife (Oxtoby, 2010).
These mythology figures represented faithful beings and reflected Hindu women because they suffered and pleaded with gods in order to save the life of their husbands. Women’s experiences within the Hindu religion were often problematized in the past through the practices of Sati or widow burning, child marriage, and pardah-pativrata (Oxtoby, 2010). Although Sati was abolished in 1829, pardah-pativrata was seen as a traditional alternative where widows are alienated from others in her society for the rest of her life and placed in a house that is strictly inhabited by female widows.
Nevertheless, Hindu women who outlive their husbands are normally looked down upon. Traditional values within the Hindu religion overall place women at a low status in society although drastic changes have been made in an attempt to catch up with the change in times (Wadley, 1977). In contrary to this perception of women, Sikhs within Sikhism have opposing views towards women and gender discrimination. Within Sikhism, Sikhs teach complete equality among all kinds of people despite their gender, age, or social status (Sharma, 2002).
This emphasis on equality between genders among Sikhs allows for both men and women to lead worship and contribute equally to religious affairs. The role of women in Sikhism is outlined in Sikh scriptures, which state that Sikh women are to be regarded as equal to Sikh men at all times. In Sikhism, women are considered to have the same souls as men and an equal right to grow spiritually (Sharma, 2002).
They are allowed to lead religious congregations, take part in the Akhand Path (the continuous recitation of the Holy Scriptures), perform Kirtan (congregational singing of hymns), and participate in all religious, cultural, social, and secular activities. As such, Sikhism was the first major world religion to state that women were equal in every single respect. In Sikhism, a man can never feel secure and complete during his life without a woman, and a man’s success depends upon the love and support of the woman who shares her life with him, and vice-versa (Sharma, 2002).
The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, reportedly said in 1499 that “it is a woman who keeps the race going and that we should not consider a woman cursed and condemned where from women born leaders and rulers are. ” Sikhs, therefore, have had an obligation to treat women as equals, and gender discrimination in Sikh society has not been allowed (Sharma, 2002). Nonetheless, within the Hindu religion, women’s roles have evolved over time and women are going against the social norm of their tradition and their way of life in hopes of being treated in the same manner that Sikh women are within Sikhism (Desai, et al. 1995). Hindu women’s traditional roles in the household in India have changed over the past century. The influence of Western scholars as well as Sikhism views on women has brought change to the overall status and role of women in Hinduism so that Hindu women can be recognized in the same way that Sikhism women are. Western scholars who have studied Hinduism have written many books and articles on the sacred scriptures including reviews on the Vedas (hymns and ritual texts) and other religious scriptures that at one point were restricted from Hindu women.
As a result of these reviews, the ongoing reconstruction of the social status and roles of Hindu women has brought about many new changes in Hinduism. Some of these changes include changes in education, health measures, problems of early marriages, the positions of widows, and the representation of women in governing bodies (Desai, et al. , 1995). For example, within Hinduism now, schools allow young women to learn the Vedas and sacred scriptures that were formally restricted to only men of a certain class or caste.
Due to this modification of women roles in society infant mortality has reduced with better health measures. Young girls are no longer forced to marry before they hit puberty, and widows are able to re-marry. The life of asceticism is now not only a part of the coming of age for a man but women are more commonly choosing this lifestyle as well. An example of this growth and leadership can be evident in the life of a female guru within Hinduism. Many female gurus’ live an ascetic lifestyle and do not try to define the difference between female or male gurus.
Both female and male gurus’ try to attain the same goal, and gender does not affect how they come to their attainment. The work that female gurus’ do with the people by teaching and connecting with their students, illustrates the growing influence of women in Hinduism (Pechilis, 2004). In learning about Hinduism and Sikhism, it is apparent to know that they have striking and opposing perceptions about women within their cultures. In Hinduism it is evident that women are not on the same level as men, nor are they recognized in the same ways as men are.
To have some kind of recognition in their culture, they have to have a certain social status within their community by attaining a certain position such as priestesses. In Sikhism, the way women are perceived and treated is on the contrary side to Hinduism. Instead, Sikh women are treated with respect and most importantly they are treated in the same way that Sikh men are treated. In Sikhism, women do not have to attain a certain social status in order to be recognized because in Sikhism, men and women have the same social status and are always on the same level within the social hierarchy of the Sikhism community.
Hindu women as a result of their lack of respect and equal treatment within the Hindu culture have fought in order to bring about changes so that they can be treated in the same ways that Sikh women are treated. Although there has been change that has overall challenged the idea of the proper wife who remains under her husband’s control, change has also brought about many beneficiary factors (Wadley, 1977). Hindu women are much more able think and act independently should they choose to.
They may better educate themselves not only in the religious texts, such as the Vedas, but in social inclement and activities as well. Women have a choice between becoming a wife who obeys her husband’s wishes or the Mother, the goddess who epitomizes the dual character of the Hindu female. These changes allow these women the opportunity to have more of a say within their culture than in the past where they were often limited to many things (Wadley, 1977). Bibliography Desai, U. , & Goodall, S. (1995). “Hindu Women Talk Out. Agenda: No. 25; Agenda Feminist Media. Oxtoby, W. (2010). World Religions: Eastern Traditions. Canada: Oxford University Press Pechilis, K. (2004) The Graceful guru: Hindu female gurus in India and the United States. New York; Toronto: Oxford University Press Pinkham, M. (1967). Women in the sacred scriptures of Hinduism and Sikhism. New York: AMS press Sharma, A. (2002). Women in Sikhism. Toronto: Oxford University Press Wadley, S. (1977). “Women and Hindu Tradition. ” Signs, Vol. 3, No. 1; Chicago: University of Chicago Press