He was known to often be critiquing the regressive customs of ‘pardah’ (veiling of women) and sati (self-immolation). He urges us to see past the physical, psychological and social coverings imposed on women and girls across the globe.
He also spoke out against ‘sati’, which is the immolation of Hindu women which was very common during his time in his writings. When Hindu men were killed during warfare, widowed wives would give themselves up in flames. This act was viewed as an example of courage and bravery and revered across the subcontinent at the time. Although the practise of ‘Sati’ has been illegal since the nineteenth century, violence against widowed women is still prevalent in India where, according to the The Women’s Media Centre, an estimated 40 million widows are live in a state of ‘social death’ whereby they lose their basic human rights.
Another practise that Guru Nanak was opposed to and often spoke out against in his writings was the practise of forcibly shaving women’s hair after the death of their husbands. This was done as a form of punishment against women as they were considered to be ones responsible for their husbands deaths by bringing ‘bad luck’ upon their marriage. They are hardly able to psychologically digest the passing of their spouses, couple this with the physical stripping of their hair and women would end up purposeless and in a state of emptiness.
Although these instances are tough to hear about, it is refreshing to look back at Guru Nanak’s work and read him speak out against the patriarchal plight of women during that time. In reading and reflecting upon the conditions of women during his time, we are motivated to fight for justice and equality for similar causes today.
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