Arranged Marriages in Sikh Society
Women have to live up to the norms and standards established by the patriarchal majority. Should they fail to meet them, they would face discrimination and abuse in any form, from verbal attacks to physical torture and even murder.
From this story comes another one, also related to gender inequality among the Sikhs. The young woman described by Davis (2016) said she had barely known her husband when they were married. The phrase raises the issue of arranged marriages as another form of gender inequality and violence against women in the Sikh community. Arranged marriages deny women the right to choose a partner and a husband. It also denies a woman the right to live her life in an atmosphere of mutual love and support. Arranged marriages have nothing to do with love; nor do they have anything to do with freedom, free choice, independent decision-making, autonomy, and justice. In many respects, they are similar to century-old claims that women are physiologically inferior to women (Gould, 2017). As a result, many women in Sikh society spend their entire lives in a vacuum, unable to overcome patriarchal barriers to equality or question their cultural norms. They may not be anthropologically inferior to men; yet, their culture degrades them to the point where they become socially and culturally inferior to men.
Supporters of arranged marriages believe that they can protect women from unexpectedness and give them a sense of certainty in their family life. Some others think that arranged marriages give families an opportunity to get to know each other and develop closer ties before their children are scheduled to get married (Shepparton Interfaith Network, 2018). Finally, arranged marriages guarantee that women brought up in Sikh society marry a Sikh man and stay in to contribute to their community (Shepparton Interfaith Network, 2018). Thus, apart from denying women their right to seek love in marriage, Sikh society by means of arranged marriages also denies women an opportunity to leave the community, if they feel they need it to promote their professional growth and achieve greater personal self-worth.
In this context, the issue of arranged marriages is intricately related to the problem of interfaith relationships. It is another facet of the gender inequality issue in Sikh society. “I never thought that the day would come when I would be frightened and terrorized by people of my own faith”, - says a young Buddhist woman who was going to marry a Sikh (Parveen, 2016). Pressure to avoid interfaith marriages in Sikh society has become particularly high. Hundreds of Sikh protesters in Britain and other countries threaten members of their community not to marry out of their faith (Parveen, 2016). Surprisingly or not, their aggression did not target the Sikh man; instead, they threatened the Buddhist woman for violating their cultural and religious norms. These actions certainly deny the image of equality, peace, fairness, diversity, and inclusivity cultivated by Sikhs.
Someone might say that gender inequality in Sikh culture and society, from dowry to arranged marriages and interfaith relationships, is merely an indispensable component of their living. Therefore, it should not be interpreted as gender inequality per se. In this sense, the argument resembles the one regarding veiling (or covering) among Muslim women (Abu-Lughod, 2017). According to Abu-Lughod (2017), veiling should not take as a lack of power and agency in Muslim women. The problem is that, unlike veiling in Muslim women, dowry and arranged marriages in Sikh society lead to violence and disrupt the integrity of women’s gender identities. Unlike veiling, which is obvious and omnipresent, gender inequality in Sikh society occurs behind closed doors. This fact alone adds complexity to the situation. Women in Sikh society, which positions itself as a model of equality, have to endure the legacy of their traditions and norms, having little opportunity to oppose the pressure of perceived inferiority in their culture. These patriarchal norms dominate the lives of women and the way they perceive their social status (Kaur & Gill, 2018). Despite the growing publicity, Sikh society takes little action to improve the position of women and create conditions for reducing gender inequality.
In conclusion, Sikhs discuss their commitment to gender equality. Sikh writings present men and women as being equally close to God. Yet, in reality, women in Sikh communities face different forms of gender inequality, from dowry to arranged marriages. These practices remain increasingly prevalent among Sikhs. Women face physical violence from husbands who are not satisfied with the amount of money paid by their wives’ parents. Women are denied a chance to marry the men they love. They are severely criticized for interfaith marriages. As such, gender inequality remains a daily reality for thousands of Sikh women.