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Sarbat Survey 2018 – Findings
Oct 23rd, 2018 by sarbat
Sarbat carried out an online survey inviting responses from it’s immediate membership as well as the wider Sikh community. We had over 120 responses which have been condensed to form this note. The findings discussed in this note will direct the way Sarbat, as a Sikh LGBT support group, will serve the community it represents moving forward.

 

 

Q1 – Is there a need for a LGBT group aimed at supporting Sikhs?
Your responses
  • 92% of you said YES
  • 5% stated they were UNSURE.
  • Less than 2% responded NO.
Sarbat’s response – Sarbat will continue to operate as a support group aimed at LGBT Sikhs as there is definitely a need.

 

Q2 – Who should attend Sarbat’s events and meetings?
Your responses
  • 50% said Anyone supportive of LGBT issues
  • 21% said Sikhs only (LGBT and non-LGBT)
  • 11% said LGBT Sikhs only
  • 10% said LGBT people of any faith or non faith
  • 8% specified a response (detailed below)
Sarbat’s response  – This issue has been raised by a few attendees in the past since they (rightfully) see Sarbat as a platform for discussing LGBT issues with other Sikhs. Many however wish to widen the events to include LGBT individuals regardless of their faith. This does offer its share of challenges and the best way forward would be to respect that although the focus of our group is on the Sikh LGBT sphere, organisers could clarify who is it they wish to address and help as part of their event. Volunteers could continue to organise a mix of events to cater to as diverse a range of individuals as possible. We do acknowledge that we wouldn’t be able to please everyone.

 

Q3 – What do you want to gain by attending Sarbat events? Multiple responses
Your top responses
  • 72% wanted to meet other Sikh LGBT people
  • 56% wanted to gain support around LGBT issues affecting them
  • 48% wanted to connect with the Sikh faith
  • 28% wanted to meet other people (not necessarily Sikhs)
Sarbat’s response – Again this echos some pointers from the previous question. Sarbat’s raison d’etre is to support LGBT issues affecting Sikhs. It is up to volunteers adhering to the principles of selfless service (seva) to ensure this continues by assessing the suitability of events . Some of you also wanted to meet supportive family members and partners.

 

Q4 –  What types of meetings would you like Sarbat to organise? (Multiple responses).
Your top responses
  • 80% said social meet-ups
  • 75% Educational/Cultural events around LGBT issues
  • 67% Educational/Cultural events around faith
  • 65% Support group sessions
  • 54% Gurudwara visits
  • 53% Outdoor activities
Sarbat’s response – Many of you mentioned that you wanted to meet other LGBT Sikh individuals. You said that this was for a multitude of things including sharing experience, building a better understanding of the Sikh faith and to form lasting friendships. You wanted Sarbat volunteers to facilitate dialogue by organising a variety of events.

 

Q5 –  Who should be responsible for organising Sarbat’s meetings?
Your responses
  • 50% Sarbat volunteers (from the area where the event take place)
  • 29% Members on a rotational basis
  • 15% Any member with personal experience of LGBT issues
Sarbat’s response – Sarbat will continue to rely on local volunteers to run events. Any geographic location will require local support specific to the region i.e volunteers who are able to gauge the level of interest in the local Sikh community and organise relevant events. Majority of people want events which are organised ‘for’ them rather than ‘by’ them which inherently means that Sarbat’s role will be directly limited by the availability/schedule of people who identify themselves as volunteers

 

Q6-  How often should Sarbat’s meetings be held?
Your responses
  • 48% Monthly
  • 29% every 2-3 months
  • 8% a couple of times a year
  • 7% 6 weekly
  • 7% weekly
Sarbat’s response – Sarbat events require local volunteers and event frequency is dependent on their ability to plan and organise effectively. A monthly frequency is not reasonable or even feasible.

 

Q7  – Would you be willing to donate a small amount of money e.g. £10 (or equivalent) once a year in order to fund the activities of Sarbat?
  • 74% Yes
  • 26% Not sure or No
Sarbat’s response – Great to hear that people are willing to donate money, probably need to consider how to take that forward. We are open for your suggestions although one way would be to request voluntary contributions at the end of each meetup in case a venue has required funding.

 

Q8 – Are you aware of Sarbat’s web and social media presence (e.g. Website, facebook, twitter and newsletter)?
  • 60% Yes
  • 40% No
Sarbat’s response – Sarbat realises that respondents are probably inherently biased positively here. The people who don’t know about Sarbat probably wouldn’t have responded to the survey in the first place as they wouldn’t have heard about it.

 

Q9   Do you have any comments or suggestion for Sarbat? 
Some pertinent points
  • Please open locations worldwide – requires local volunteers
  • Provide service to Indian lgbt individuals to ‘help them migrate to more accepting countries’ – For the record Sarbat provides no such service and since the recent ruling in India Re: Sec 377, we anticipate tremendous strides to be made there
  • Engage with Sikh leaders, Gurudwaras and scholarly debates – please provide suggestions
  • Raise awareness and improve visibility – please get in touch
  • Requesting transparency in terms of a committee/board style – unrealistic given the number of people involved
  • Clear unused profiles on your Sarbat social media page – Please tell us how

 

Note produced by Dharam Singh on behalf of Sarbat.

Sarbat and Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code
Sep 9th, 2018 by sarbat
The biggest news in the LGBT sphere so far this year has been the Indian Supreme Court partially striking down Section 377 on the 6th of September. This ruling essentially decriminalises gay sex between adults.

Sarbat finds this of historic significance. One fifth of mankind has rightfully been told that consensual sex between two adults of the same gender is not a crime. Now it is up to the Indian government to implement the ruling.

We get many messages from LGBT people in India who tell us that they are afraid to be openly gay. That they are too scared to come out to their friends or families.

 

One of the biggest reasons for this was the fact that it was essentially illegal to be gay in India. This was too big an obstacle for many to overcome and they remained hidden. Many continue to live secret double lives and frequently marry a member of the opposite sex.

 

The ruling will have a major impact. It will encourage more LGBT people to come out. People holding homophobic views will no longer be able to use Section 377 as an excuse to hold such views.

 

It will impact the Indian community in the UK as it means the subject of being LGBT will be on the agenda and families across the country will be discussing it. This is highly significant as this subject is still very much taboo among Indian families, even in British society. This ruling will bring this debate to the forefront.

 

It is a huge milestone for LGBT rights. It is, however, only one step on the road to equality and acceptance. There is still a long way to go in changing the general attitudes in society.

 

There will be several ‘faith leaders’ sharing their views on this issue. One should remember that the universal goal of a Sikh is to have no hate or animosity to any person, regardless of factors like race, caste, colour, creed, gender or sexuality.

 

Equality is cornerstone to our identity.

On behalf of Sarbat.
A new year message from Sarbat
Dec 30th, 2017 by sarbat

Dear members and friends

2017 has been an eventful year for many and we anticipate 2018 to offer opportunities just as profound.

 

Sarbat’s journey since 2007 has been just as eventful, starting as an online forum for LGBT Sikhs, the group now has a wide global reach which encompasses the diversity of the Sikh LGBT identity. You all have played an instrumental role in letting us be heard in changing legislation, holding politicians to account and informing the public debate on several issues relating to Sikhi. We now want you to take it a step further by representing LGBT Sikhs in surveys/forums/social media and by holding Sarbat events in your city.

The volunteer led Sarbat event in Leeds this January will be our first for 2018 and we hope that many of you who have been in touch will be running their own events in 2018. All we require is information on dates and venues – Do get in touch.

Sarbat has and will continue to put equality for us all as the cornerstone to our shared Sikh identity. We are encouraged that the Sikh community is supportive of our presence and things are moving in the right direction slowly but steadily.

We wish you a very happy and prosperous new year and hope that you are part of Sarbat’s future.

 

Issued on behalf of Sarbat

 

 Details for the Leeds event can be found here – make sure to RSVP.
A future event in Canada is in the works. Get in touch if you want to make it happen much quicker. February also takes us to the Wallace Collection. 
An open letter to our friends in Australia
Feb 12th, 2017 by sarbat

An open letter

This open letter is in response to a submission by the National Sikh Council of Australia Inc in response to the Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill supported by Bawa Singh Jagdev, Secretary.

The overwhelming principle of Sikhism is to consider all of human race as equal without exception. This consideration does not conflict in any way our faith’s commitment to a family life which is an essential social unit in Sikhism. Sarbat will refute major points made in the letter as following in addition to asking for further clarification from NSCA.

Point 1: It defies the meanings of the marriage which is a union of a man and ad a woman.

Response from Sarbat : A marriage in Sikhism is seen as a union of two genderless souls, with the outwards appearance of human beings (which is a temporary state) to God. The Laavan (the four sacred hymns forming the Anand Karaj or the Sikh wedding ceremony) mentions no gender and is seen as a spiritual journey to achieving happiness through committing to the Sikh faith.

Point 2: God created man and women for the propagation of human race otherwise he could have created only men or women, but He didn’t. The marriage is for the procreation and raising children in a caring and loving family environment is called marriage. And the union of two men or two women do not produce any offspring.
Response from Sarbat: We would like to ask NSCA what would be their take on heterosexual Sikh couples who do not wish to have (out of choice or necessity) or aren’t able to have children. Additionally is NSCA suggesting that only children of married couples grow up in a ‘caring and loving family environment’?
Sikhism is about dealing with contemporary and every day problems faced by humans living in the present. We feel that point 2 is an antithesis of that.

Point 3: Imagine for a moment if the progeny of Adam and Eve had decided to be homosexual no one of us, including the proponents and those supporting the Bill, would be here today to discuss what we are debating because the union of two homosexuals, does not and cannot produce anything. What the proponents of the Bill are proposing and supporting is against the law of Nature. God created humans on this planet to propagate the human race and not to destroy it. This bill will destroy the whole human race.
Response from Sarbat: This point isn’t entirely clear, is it being suggested that all men and women are naturally predisposed to form same sex relationships? Scientific evidence suggests that anything between 1 – 5 percent of human population is not heterosexual. So any concerns that the writer may have about the ‘destruction of the whole human race’ are unfounded and cannot be taken seriously.

Point 4 : Union of two Gay or Lesbian is not a union for love but merely for the unnatural sexual gratification for themselves and in no way is going to help any society advancement. Gay and Lesbian, under the Human Rights, can exercise their right to live the way they want to live and tie the knot of union but that union of two same sex cannot be called a marriage. A new term shall have to be coined for that union. In human society a father is always a male and mother is a female and although there won’t be any babies born out of the union of two homosexual yet if they find and adopt one, between two homosexual men who would the child call father and to whom the mother and the same applies to two lesbians. So new terms for father and mother shall have to coined.
Response from Sarbat: Many same sex couples with children that we have come across use different terms for the two different same sex parents. e.g. ‘Papa’ and ‘Daddy’. Is the writer of the original submission just concerned about semantics of the English language or is it something deeper than that?
We would like to have an open debate with National Sikh Council of Australia and would like to hear from you here, on facebook, twitter or via email to info (a) sarbat dot net.
Issued without prejudice
Sarbat
Barnados Faith Tool Kit for Schools – Sikhism
Nov 16th, 2015 by sarbat

We were recently asked to provide a Sikh perspective on tolerance, respect and diversity to be used for UK Schools. Kam, one of our facilitators provided the following.

What does your faith say about ideas such as tolerance, respect, diversity? 

Sikhs believe in one God. For all people of all religions.

The central tenet of Sikhism is equality.

Sikhs have a long heritage of speaking out against injustice and for standing up for the defenceless.

It teaches that all humans are equal before God – No discrimination is allowed on the basis of caste, race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, origin, colour, education, status or wealth.

The principles of universal equality and brotherhood are important pillars of Sikhism. Sikhism believes in full equality for men and women.

Sikhism says that one should be tolerant as wind, water, earth and tree. What it means is that one should have even-mindedness in all circumstances. A positive and constructive attitude of respect, sympathy and understanding which humbly accepts the other man’s beliefs or practices as legitimate and valid, like one’s own.

This should be without revenge, hindrance, harassment, discrimination or oppression. Does this mean one should surrender his self-respect, preferences, thinking, ideology, views and all angularities? No. But one must allow everybody else to have the same freedom.

Nowhere in the Guru Granth Sahib – the Sikh holy scriptures – will you find the evil quality of intolerance. It speaks of nothing but tolerance.

In 1675, the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib Ji, in continuing the unwavering stance of the preceding Sikh Gurus against religious intolerance, sacrificed his life defending the right of non-Sikhs to practice their faith freely. He defended Hindu’s from being forced to convert to Islam. In doing so made a supreme sacrifice that had never previously been recorded in human history.

Sikhs throughout time have been guided by this devotion to the principles of religious freedom and have not forced their beliefs onto others. In fact, they have worked and fought to defend the rights of all others to believe and practice as they wish.

 
What does your faith tell people about children and young people and protecting them from any form of bullying including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying?

Guru Har Krishan became the youngest of the 10 Gurus at the age of 5, despite him having an elder brother. This demonstrates the enormous level of respect accorded to young people within Sikhism.

In Sikhism, it is absolutely not allowed for any form of homophobic/biphobic/transphobic bullying to take place. This would be going against everything that Sikhism stands for.

The Sikh Gurus devoted their lives to defend the needy and those without a voice. They stressed the need to treat all people the same. A true Sikh is one who harbours no hatred or animosity to others who are different to oneself.

Sikhism teaches that we are all brothers and sisters. That we are all equal in the eyes of God. It does not matter whether you are gay, bi sexual or trans. We must all love one another and treat everyone equally.

 

Have you had any experiences that you would like others to hear about relating to sexuality and faith or homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying?

I am a practising Sikh and identify as gay. I am proud to be a Sikh and love everything that my religion stands for. It is an honour to be a part of a religion that is as progressive and compassionate as Sikhism is.

Sikhism does not teach against homosexuality or being trans.  It does not condemn it in anyway. This is of huge importance to me.

I, personally, could not justify committing to a religion if it spoke out against homosexuality. A healthy mind comes from healthy practices and practising a religion that values compassion and equality for all is immeasurably important to me.

I have deeply religious and conservative Sikh parents. Yet I was able to come out as gay to them. There was no rejection or criticism. There was only love. Which is what Sikhism teaches – love for all.

I help run a charity for Gay Sikhs called Sarbat.  One of our aims is to eradicate homophobic attitudes that can often be found in Punjabi communities. Whilst this is not strictly a Sikh problem, but more a Punjabi one, that is based on conservative Indian views, the two are often confused.

We provide a voice for gay Sikhs in Britain and around the world and provide a platform where Sikhism and gay and trans issues can be openly discussed.

A message from Jag in Canada
May 11th, 2014 by sarbat

In addition to the various messages of support we get from people, we occasionally get the following kinds of messages which we prefer being answered (without being censored).

Very recently Jag wrote us the following email…. and we responded in kind.

 

JAG : this site is a joke wtf u mean gay lesbian transeual. u think theres transexual sikhs? u think god makes mistakes? gay and other filth is not compatabile with sikhism why else u think we dont allow gurdwaras to allow gays to marry u uk ppl have totaly messed up try this in canada we would rip ur turban off u ain no sikh ur just perverts imagine if a little kid saw this site u perverts ain got no place in sikhi

Response from Sarbat : 

Dear Jag

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh. 

Thank you for your email.

 Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, there are many LGBT people who are Sikhs.  Sarbat is a support group which was formed to provide help and support to this community.  We are an internationally recognised charity and, indeed, have many members in Canada.

 You are absolutely right when you state that God does not make mistakes. Therefore, you will agree, that Sikhs have every right to be the given the same level of respect that you yourself would demand to be given.

 Being gay is not filth nor perverted. Nor is it a choice in life. You are born gay,  just as, I am assuming, you were born straight.  If you had a child who happened to be gay,  I would hope that you would do what is expected of all Sikhs, and that is, treat them the same as anyone else. Anything other than this, would render you to be acting against Sikhi. 

 In response to your point about children seeing our site. I would point out that many young Sikh children visit our site, and often email us asking for support and guidance. We are always here to help them should they be facing unwarranted discrimination, the kind of which, sadly, you are personally guilty of perpetrating.

 We would not rip your turban off for being homophobic and misguided, so we would be grateful if you refrained from ripping off our turbans. I am sure you do not need me to remind you that committing such an act, would be in serious violation of Sikh values. Needless to say, your very threat of doing so, is a criminal offence. So, I would suggest you take greater care in any future communications.

 Finally, moving onto your point regarding same sex marriage in Sikh Gurdwaras.  The UK now has equal marriage laws for all LGBT people, and quite rightly, recognises our right to marry. Many countries throughout the world also have such legislation. There is no reason why a Sikh LGBT couple cannot marry in a Gurdwara, and I anticipate a same sex marriage taking place in a Gurdwara in the near future.  I, along with the rest of my Sikh brothers and sisters, look forward to that day, with great anticipation.

 You show vehement desire in upholding Sikhi values. I would, therefore, respectfully suggest that you forego your homophobic views. You are not a true Sikh if you go through the path of life holding such views. They are not in line with Sikhism.

 Quite aside from the actual content, your email contains numerous spelling and grammatical errors. From this, I can only deduce that your education and intelligence is completely in line with the views that you have expressed. Whilst this is unfortunate, it is not wholly surprising. As such, your comments will be dismissed as they hold neither merit nor any factual foundation.

 You do not appear to be well versed in Sikhism.  I would also suggest you take a read of our same sex marriage leaflet on our website, which can be found here: http://sarbat.net/sikhism_and_same_sex_relationships.pdf

 We are all equal in the eyes of God.  Sikhs believe that all human beings are equal. “We are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty”. Sikhs have to treat all peoples of the world equally. No gender, racial, social, etc. discrimination is allowed. This is the message of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, as taught by the 10 Gurus.

 We at Sarbat, hope you discover the true meaning of Sikhi and allow the message of Waheguru to dispel your hatred and anti-Sikhi views.

 May God bless you.

 Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh

 Kind regards

 Sarbat

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Sarbat’s statement on the UK’s equal marriage bill
Apr 22nd, 2013 by sarbat

We at Sarbat are delighted to see the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill overwhelmingly voted in favour by a majority of MPs (400 to 175).

The Bill will extend the legal form of marriage to lesbian, gay and bisexual couples and permit religious groups to perform such marriages should they wish.

This is an important step towards equality for same sex couples. An overwhelming majority of the public now favour allowing same sex couples to marry, and support has increased rapidly. Most people now agree that it will strengthen, and not weaken the institution of marriage.

Sarbat actively promotes the rights of LGBT Sikhs. The Sikh faith enshrines equality for all and it does not discriminate against gay men or women who wish to make a life-long commitment to each other.

We believe that there is no room for discrimination within our community for being who we are. Indeed, Sikhism being a progressive religion, built upon the fundamental principle of “all being equal” – any such discrimination would be going against Sikhi itself.

There is no reason why a committed Sikh couple should not be allowed to get married in a Gurdwara. The Lavaan (Sikh Wedding Hymns) are also non-gender specific, and so same-sex marriage is possible within the Sikh Dharam. However, most Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) in the current time would be reluctant to conduct a same-sex marriage because of an edict made by the Jathedar (Leader) of the Akal Takht in 2005 which banned same sex
marriages.

Sarbat’s view is that this guidance is flawed. It is based more on cultural and personal bias, rather than on a view of Gurbani (holy scriptures). Furthermore, the guidance issued is contrary to Sikh teachings.

This statement is not in the spirit of his appointment, which is to promote Sikhi values and principles and to issue guidance and statements that are rooted in Sikhi. We invite the Jathedar Sahib to issue a clarification of his original statement, explaining what Sikh principles and teachings he draws on to reach his conclusion.

The Jathedar has been heavily criticised in the past for making ill-judged comments. The case of the Delhi rape victim in December 2012, being one such example.

We remain optimistic that, this most basic of human rights, will be recognised by the larger Sikh community.

Sarbat is a social and support group for and by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Sikhs. We offer a platform for like-minded Sikhs from all walks of life, and aim to promote the LGBT Sikh cause in a fair and courteous manner.

07 May 2013

PDF version

LGBT Rights and Guru Nanak’s Legacy of Inclusion
Nov 11th, 2011 by sarbat

[Article by Sonny Singh, courtesy of The Huffington Post – 11th October 2011]

This week, I join my fellow Sikhs around the world in celebrating the birth of Guru Nanak, a mystic poet, saint and revolutionary who was born in Punjab in 1469 and went on to found our faith.

Our history tells us that when he was about 30 years old, Guru Nanak disappeared for three days while bathing in a river. When he emerged, he stated, Na koi Hindu, Na Koi Mussalman — There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim.

This provocative statement wasn’t intended to be a critique of Hinduism or Islam. As Sikh scholar Nikki Guninder Kaur states, “Guru Nanak was not making a value judgment about, nor refuting, the religious life of the Hindus and Muslims of his day. He was pointing to the oneness of the Transcendent that translates into the oneness and equality of humanity.”

Guru Nanak saw religious divisions and rigidity as obstacles to the Divine. South Asia at the time was under the rule of the Mughal Empire, which was often at odds with the Hindu population. He saw a society brimming with hypocrisy, intolerance, caste oppression and sexism, all in the name of God. Guru Nanak traveled around Asia and the Middle East engaging the people he met about questions of God, religion, injustice and love, while singing his devotional poetry, accompanied by a Muslim musician, Bhai Mardana.

Five hundred and forty-two years after his birth, Guru Nanak’s message is more important than ever, as we as human beings grapple with rampant discrimination in its many forms. We Sikhs pride ourselves on being champions of equality and justice, inspired by the legacy of Guru Nanak.

Earlier this year, I was quite disappointed when the World Sikh Council, a “representative and elected body of Sikh Gurdwaras [Sikh houses of worship] and institutions in the US,” joined with other faith-based institutions to essentially champion injustice instead of equality. The organization lobbied President Obama to uphold the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), a federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and woman. After the Obama Administration took a principled stance against DOMA in February, the World Sikh Council went so far as to co-sign a letter of protest to House Speaker John Boehner denouncing his decision.

While I take issue with the state having a role in defining what is and isn’t a legitimate relationship in general (and one’s romantic relationship defining whether or not they have access to certain legal protections and social services), it is nevertheless disheartening to see a Sikh institution — representing the legacy of Guru Nanak — aligning itself with such reactionary and anti-gay ideology, when Sikhism itself is a freedom-seeking, loving, open-minded philosophy and way of life.

Ik Onkar are the first words (written by Guru Nanak himself) in the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scriptures, and the center of what it means to be a Sikh: Oneness of the Divine, Oneness of the Divine’s creation, Oneness of humanity. Our Gurus and our ancestors put everything on the line to establish a world that is inclusive of all people, religions and ways of life — a world in which all people were equal.

The World Sikh Council appears, in this case, to be fighting for a world quite contrary to this vision. As I reflect on the fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee began debating the bill to repeal DOMA one week before Guru Nanak’s birthday, I find myself frustrated by the discriminatory actions of some who claim to speak for my community.

In some ways, the World Sikh Council reflects the homophobia I’ve witnessed in the Sikh community, which sometimes takes the form of someone saying, “This is not our issue,” as if to imply that all Sikhs are heterosexual or that we’re only concerned about some people’s oppression and suffering, but not all.

To the first point, sadly, just as in other religious communities, we have sometimes forced LGBT Sikhs to choose between their religion and their hearts. Clearly, this is not a dichotomy that should ever exist in Sikhism (or any religion for that matter).

To the second point, there’s an important concept in Sikhism called Sarbat da Bhala, which means working for the welfare and well-being of all people. This is a spiritual obligation for us Sikhs. We recite these words countless times, as they conclude one of the central Sikh prayers, Ardas (meaning “petition”).

Fortunately, many Sikhs are indeed embodying these words we say so often. A few months after the shooting and killing of two elderly Sikh men in Sacramento, Calif., in March, the Sacramento Sikh Temple offered a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator of a violent anti-gay hate attack in the same neighborhood. Twenty-six-year-old Seth Parker was punched in the face, suffering multiple facial fractures, while the attackers directed anti-gay slurs at him.

A spokesperson for the Gurdwara stated: “The Sikh Community condemns this disgusting attack motivated by ignorance and hate. In light of the recent murders of two Sikhs in Elk Grove and the hate crime conviction in Yolo County (of two men who attacked a Sikh taxi driver), we are especially sensitive to such crimes. We hope that our reward will help bring these criminals to justice.”

Now this is the kind of solidarity that is at the heart of what it means to be a Sikh.

Guru Nanak states: Jaano Jot Na Puucho, Jaati Aagai Jaat Na Hai — Recognize the Divine light within all, and do not consider social class or status; there are no classes or castes in the world hereafter.

The oppression of LGBT people is one of the most pervasive and accepted forms of subjugation today. Indeed, many individuals and institutions deem LGBT people a lower class or caste, justifying their discrimination with dogmatic rhetoric of what’s “natural,” “normal” and, in the case of the World Sikh Council’s letter to Speaker Boehner, what are true “American values.” This is no different than saying turbans are not truly American, so Sikhs should not be allowed to wear them in public. Oppression is oppression. Our struggles are intertwined.

Just as Guru Nanak said hundreds of years ago, “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim,” perhaps today we can also say, “There is no straight, there is no gay.” Indeed, his message was ultimately that we are all One.

A Beautiful Bunch of Flowers
Jul 11th, 2011 by sarbat

An anonymous article – London, UK

11th July 2011


There is the rose. The English rose.  It is beautiful, sensual and represents all that is elegant and fragrant of what a flower ought to be.  It is symbolic of a great nation.  It is seen and used by many as an emblem.  There are a number of varieties but the red rose is greatly favoured among others.

Now there are other flowers as well, which are equally sensual, tropical, beautiful, and bring great pleasure to many.  Some say only the rose can bring pleasure like no other flower.  But we have seen there are a variety of flowers, and when bunched together, they all look beautiful.

So are God’s creatures. We have the yellow skinned, black, brown, light brown, children, women, men, tall men, short men, fat men, fat women, tall women, heterosexuals, homosexuals, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims…  All beautiful in their own right, but when put in a bunch of others like flowers they are even more fragrant and beautiful.   When left alone because they are single parents, suffering, homosexuals, etc. Like flowers, they wonder and wither and waver and struggle alone.

Like flowers, our creator wanted us to be all together to learn and share, whatever the colour of our petals, because we are all His gracious creatures.  It is no use for the orchard to pretend and struggle to be like the rose, because then as a rose she would be the symbol of the nation, brought by millions on Valentines day and celebrated. The orchard may struggle and even try, but it would be no use as she will still be an orchard. However, the orchard is still beautiful, is still elegant and will be even more respected if she stays as an orchard to true to herself and her faith.

Why am I writing this when I am a happily married mother of two?  I have a few nephews, and I think one of them may be what others have described as ‘confused’.  I suspect he is bisexual or homosexual.  As a ‘massi’ I love him and want the best for him forever.  I want him to be true to himself  and  I cannot say this to him,  but I can write it, and write it for all the other nephews I have,  for I do not now distinguish between my worldly family and spiritual family as a Sikh.  Be true to yourself and do not destroy a girl’s life by trying to fit in to the pressures of society.   It is far better to live the life you want than to live for others and struggle with your own life.  Just imagine if, when Sikhs came to the UK decades ago, they lived the life of what English people wanted?  We would have no Sikh faith or Gurdwaras in the UK.  Have the same courage as those Sikhs.  In the end, God created the bunch of flowers, not a single red rose.  All his flowers are beautiful and precious to him.

Video – Homosexuality and Being a Sikh
Mar 7th, 2011 by sarbat

Guruka Singh and Sikhnet have released a short video on the subject of homosexuality and Sikhism, and it is an enlightened response to the issue. Please watch the video and feel free to comment upon it below.

Sarbat Milestones in August 2010
Sep 3rd, 2010 by sarbat

August 2010 has proven to be significant month for milestones for Sarbat.Net. Not only did we get our 200th member joining up for the message boards, but we also had the largest number of visitors to the website to date (almost 1500 people in the space of a single month).

Sarbat.Net would be nothing without the assistance and dedication of its service users, and we take this opportunity to thank you for all of the support given over the last 3 years to make the website what it is today – a thriving, growing, and developing community for LGBT Sikhs in the UK and around the world.

“Jithai avghat gallia bhiria, tithai har har mukat karai”

“Where the path is difficult and the street is narrow, that is where God will liberate you”

p.996 of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Ram Das Ji

Guru Nanak and the B40 Janamsakhi – The Meeting with Sheikh Sharaf
Feb 9th, 2009 by admin

9th February 2009

Guru Nanak, the first of the Sikh Gurus and the founder of Sikhism, lived from 1469 to 1539. During that time, he travelled as far afield as Baghdad and Mecca in the West and China and Tibet in the East, as well as the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. These travels were known as the Udasis or ‘Journeys’, and the Guru spent the majority of his life on such travels. Stories concerning the Guru’s travels are contained within documents known as the Janamsakhis (literally ‘birth stories’), which purport to be the biographical accounts of Guru Nanak’s life.

The Janamsakhis are comparable to the Gospels in Christianity in that both sets of accounts were collated and written up some considerable time after the events that they purport to describe, and both are subject to discrepancies due to the period of time which had passed before their compilation and the personal perspectives of the individuals who wrote those accounts, as well as the possible manipulation and falsification of events. However, just as the Gospels provide an allegorical basis for Christian theology, so do the Janamsakhis provide a narrative setting for Guru Nanak’s teachings and beliefs. The Janamsakhis are important within Sikhism as historical documents because they show how the early Sikh community relied upon stories to provide a basis and an explanation for abstract beliefs as set out within the present-day Guru Granth Sahib in much the same way as the Hindu community sought such theological explanation from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, even if the Janamsakhis cannot be entirely relied upon for their historical accuracy.

The main Janamsakhis, and the ones that are best known amongst Sikhs, are:

  • the Janamsakhi of Bhai Bala (who claimed to be a companion of Guru Nanak on many of his travels);
  • the Janamsakhi of Bhai Gurdas (the scribe who compiled the Guru Granth Sahib at the request of Guru Arjun, the fifth Guru);
  • the Janamsakhi of Bhai Mani Singh (a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, who expanded on the accounts within the Janamsakhi of Bhai Gurdas);
  • the Puratan or ‘ancient’ Janamsakhis as compiled by Bhai Vir Singh (an historian and writer from the 19th Century).

Although Bhai Bala’s Janamsakhi has been criticised by modern historians for its inconsistencies with the other Janamsakhis and its veracity has been brought into question, with some historians questioning whether Bhai Bala ever travelled with Guru Nanak, it is still the most popular of the Janamsakhis and Bhai Bala has been elevated to the pantheon of Guru Nanak’s associates within the communal Sikh consciousness.

There are also various other Janamsakhis which are known to exist and which give accounts which are not to be found in any other Janamsakhi. One such Janamsakhi is the B40 Janamsakhi, which is dated 1790 Sakranti (1733 A.D.). Sikh historians in Punjab appear to have known of the existence of this particular Janamsakhi in the late 19th Century, but it was only following the acquisition of the Janamsakhi by the India Office Library in London in 1907 that it finally came under scrutiny. The Janamsakhi was filed in the India Office Library catalogue under the reference number ‘MS Panj B40’, hence its name. The B40 Janamsakhi has, in recent years attracted much attention due to the fact that it contains perhaps the greatest variety of stories than any of the other known Janamsakhis and in a multitude of Indian dialects, which seem to suggest that it has taken stories concerning Guru Nanak from a wide range of sources.[1]

One of the stories contained within the B40 Janamsakhi concerns a visit by Guru Nanak to Baghdad. It is illustrated with a picture of Guru Nanak, Mardana (his devoted Muslim disciple and companion), and a bearded younger man wearing a woman’s outfit which appears to be a red Punjabi-style suit. [2]

Guru Nanak, Mardana and Sheikh Sharaf

Guru Nanak, Mardana and Sheikh Sharaf

Description of Painting in Gurmukhi and English

Description of Painting in Gurmukhi and English

The English translation of the accompanying story reads as follows:[3]
‘Once Baba [Nanak] visited the city of Baghdad [where] he observed Sheikh Sharaf wearing the sixteen adornments [that a woman traditionally applied to herself in order to attract her lover]. [He was clad in] female garments and arrayed in all manner of jewellery. To his eyes he had applied black eye-shadow (anjan) and his hands he had stained red with henna. He sang ghazals in the bazaar and drew enormous crowds.

“What dress is this which you have adopted, Sheikh?”, asked Baba [Nanak].
“I have not found my Beloved,” he answered. “To find my Beloved I have adorned [myself] in this manner.”
“Sheikhji,” said Baba [Nanak], “the [Divine] Husband takes no pleasure in such attire. It is Truth that he seeks and adoring love that He desires. That which pleases Him is something unusual. If it pleases Him then no matter how [a man] may pour himself out in years of service the service of his entire lifetime is fruitless if he imagines himself to be worth anything. [On the other hand] if [a man] commits the sins of innumerable existences and then, if the Master so wills, meets one who has attained Truth then he is save. It is [dependant on] the favour of the Master. Whatever He desires, that He performs. But you sing ghazals – sing something for us.”

Sheikh [Sharaf] sang [two compositions] in Dhanasari raga:

Rag Dhanasari
Everyday I ask the Brahman astrologer
When shall I find my Beloved?
When shall I be set free from the misery of separation?

I am in torment, O mother; my spirit burns.
I have not beheld my Master; both [my] eyes are filled [with tears].

Every day I despatch the crow [with a message for my beloved].
At night I count the stars, unable to sleep.
As the piedcrested cuckoo cries [for the rain-drop] so I cry [for my Beloved].

Without my Beloved I cannot endure a moment.
As the kulang separated [from its mate] cries [in anguish],
As the fish deprived of water writhes [in agony, So do I suffer the absence of my Beloved]

Hasten not, Sheikh Sharaf.
The one who yearns [for union with the Beloved] will suffer not one wound [but many].
O mad one, have you forgotten [the joy of the Master’s] presence?

Rag Dhanasari
Lay yourself in a mill and grind yourself;
Boil your limbs in dye;
As your body is dyed like a cloth,
So is [your spirit] steeped in the fast colour of the divine Name.

Thus is drunk the cup of love,
[And thus] does one live in this world a life of obedience. (Refrain)

[As a brick is] fired in a kiln;
[As] cotton is teased;
[As] a sesame seed is squazed in an oil-press;
So [by like suffering] is the light [of understanding] kindled [in the man].

[Steel] is heated in the fire of a furnace;
It endures beating by a hammer on an anvil;
[Finally it] is rendered beautiful by the burnisher.

Be the tree from which [the Master’s] rabab is made;
Be slaughtered like a goat [sacrificed to him].
What is the value of futile discussion?
This is the song which Sharaf sings.

Baba [Nanak] then gave his reply:

Rag Dhanasari
I have come to the door of submission;
I have invited the Master into my abode.
If the Master so pleases He gathers me in His embrace. 1.

In doing this, O mother, I found Him
Eyes filled [with tears of joy] I beheld [my] beloved and was at peace. (Refrain)

He considered neither my virtue nor my iniquity.
He observed neither my appearance nor physical beauty.
To him who entered my dwelling I gave my love. 2.

As the chakvi duck gazing at the sun finds bliss;
Like the piedcrested cuckoo which received the raindrop, so is my heart enraptured,
[For] I have met my Beloved and found [the supreme] happiness. How can my value be accounted! 3.

Nanak says, thus does one find delight in the Master.
When a dumb man tastes nectar he can but smile. He who has drunk it – he it is who knows! 4. [4]

Sheikh Sharaf touched his feet [and cried], “Wondrously fortunate am I that one so great should have visited me! [Truly] you are the refuge of the poor. Be merciful [to a worthless wretch].”

Baba [Nanak] looked graciously upon him, where upon Sheikh was purged of human understanding and endued with divine reason. The very hairs of his body stood erect and ecstasy came [upon him]. In everything that he could see he perceived God – in everything that existed, both visible and concealed. Baba [Nanak] departed joyfully and going to another place, rested there.’


Sheikh Sharaf, it should be noted, was not a contemporary of Guru Nanak. Sheikh Sharaf al-Din of Panipat (also known as Bu Ali Shah Qalandar) was a popular Sufi saint who had died in the early 14th Century and who, according to legend, had been visited in his dreams by the Islamic Prophet, Muhammad. There are a number of mystical and legendary tales involving Sheikh Sharaf and his teachings, and his tomb in Panipat remains to this day an important place of pilgrimage for Sufis. Guru Nanak would have been fully aware of Sheikh Sharaf’s philosophy, but the two individuals could never have met as Sheikh Sharaf had passed away over 200 years before Guru Nanak was born. There is also the discrepancy in that Guru Nanak met Sheikh Sharaf in Baghdad, but this may be explained by the fact that the Sheikh was known to have travelled extensively, having been born in the city of Ganja in present-day Azerbaijan and gaining ‘enlightenment’ in Karnal in India, so the idea of the Sheikh having taken in Baghdad in his travels is not entirely remote. Guru Nanak, meanwhile, is famously described as having travelled through Baghdad. Whilst this janamsakhi concerning the Sheikh and the Guru is not historically accurate, it does present an allegorical exposition of Guru Nanak’s own teachings.

Sufi teachings and qawalis (songs) are filled with plaintive images of the singer or writer being the bride of an absent lover (God) with whom the bride desired to be reunited, and for whom the pain of being separated is too great to bear. This story appears to take this to a literal reality, by showing a Sufi teacher going to the extent of dressing as a bride in order to attract God’s attention. Guru Nanak’s teaching to him is that it is not necessary to go to such an extreme in order to achieve unity with God, and that God can be found everywhere once one gains divine enlightenment. When Guru Nanak says that God ‘takes no pleasure in such attire’, it is not a condemnation of wearing the outfit but rather an explanation of why it is not necessary to wear such garments in order to please or be united with God.

The B40 Janamsakhi was completed in 1733, some 25 years after Guru Gobind Singh’s death, and the painting itself shows that cross-dressing was not unknown during the era of the Gurus, even if the historical accuracy of this particular painting and the accompanying story are highly doubtful. Guru Nanak had travelled extensively during his Udasis, and it is again likely that Guru Nanak met people who were cross-dressers or who had same-sex relationships. However, the absence within any Sikh literature, even within the context of this story within the B40 Janamsakhi, of condemnation of cross-dressing per-se or same-sex relationships seems to suggest that the Gurus considered such lifestyles to be irrelevant to living a life as a Sikh. According to this story, Guru Nanak teaches that the importance to living the life of a Sikh is living a life dedicated to Truth and being humble enough to appreciate that all is dependent on the grace of God.



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[1] p.4 ‘The B40 Janamsakhi, an English Translation’ – edited by WH McLeod (1979)
[2] The paintings were reproduced in ‘B-40 Janamsakhis Baba Guru Nanak Paintings’, Guru Nanak Dev University (1987)
[3] pp.208 – 212, McLeod
[4] It should be noted that this composition allegedly by Guru Nanak does not appear in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy Sikh scripture.

Leaflet on Sikhism and Same-Sex Relationships
Oct 7th, 2008 by admin

A leaflet has been produced as a resource on Sikhism and attitudes towards sexuality, marriage, and same-sex relationships.

Please feel free to print out the leaflet.

Click here for the leaflet

Vaisakhi – The Festival of Identity
Apr 11th, 2008 by admin

11th April 2008

On April 13th each year, Sikhs around the world celebrate the festival of Vaisakhi. Although originally the north Indian spring harvest festival, Vaisakhi has come to be seen by most people as the birthday of the Sikh religion in its present form. It is a time of contemplation, of renewing one’s religious beliefs, and of celebrating the Sikh faith. Vaisakhi is also significant in that it relates to the identity of Sikhs in many respects, and it is that aspect which is perhaps the most important of this festival. In order to appreciate how and why Vaisakhi is a festival of Sikh identity and the ramifications of such a festival of identity, one needs to looks at the historical context of Vaisakhi.

Since the days of Guru Amar Das, the Third Guru, it was customary for Sikhs to assemble at the residence of the Guru on the days of Diwali and Vaisakhi when the Guru would make announcements and explain developments within the Sikh faith. Pilgrims would travel to wherever the Guru had established as his home and would listen intently to the Guru’s teachings. It’s not entirely clear why the days of Vaisakhi and Diwali were chosen, but it would not be wrong to assume that they were selected as Sikhs throughout the subcontinent would be fully aware of when those festivals would take place and also because the two festivals have an approximate gap of about six months, providing a natural biannual division.

Since the torture and subsequent death of the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, in 1606, the Sikhs had been under increased persecution from the Mughal authorities. Guru Hargobind, the Sixth Guru and the son of Guru Arjan Dev, introduced the ideology of Miri-Piri to Sikhism – the belief that religion has both a political and spiritual basis in the world, both of which coexist and neither of which is superior over the other. This concept was represented at the investiture of Guru Hargobind in 1606 by his wearing two swords on either side of his person. Guru Hargobind established the Akal Takht as the political equivalent of the Darbar Sahib (‘Golden Temple’), and its positioning opposite the Darbar Sahib itself is of significance. Guru Hargobind’s legacy was the introduction of a distinct Sikh identity at the start of the 17th Century, that of the individual who is both spiritual and a warrior when necessary, the Saint-Soldier, but that identity needed to be strengthened as became apparent towards the end of the 17th Century.

In the winter of 1675, the son of Guru Hargobind and the Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was beheaded in Chandni Chowk in the heart of Old Delhi. After his death, the body of the Guru was left in public, albeit under guard, and no Sikh was willing to come forward to claim the body. In fact, the body and the head of the Guru were only taken by Sikhs under the cover of a heavy dust storm whereby those individuals could avoid being identified. The Tenth Guru was left with the task of consolidating the Sikh faith, and the fact that the Sikhs of Delhi had been too afraid to come forward to claim the body of his father must surely have not been too far from the Guru’s mind when he was considering the various ways of taking the religion forward.

On the day of Vaisakhi in 1699, it became clear that the response of Guru Gobind Rai (as he was known then) to the death of his father and the loss of a great spiritual leader was to create a unique identity for the Sikh community, and he did so by initiating the Khalsa. The Khalsa, or the ‘Brotherhood of the Pure’, is recognised as the core of the Sikh religion, and the Tenth Guru changed his own name from ‘Gobind Rai’ to Gobind Singh’ as he too joined the Khalsa, earning the epithet of ‘aapay gur chella’ – ‘He himself is the Guru become disciple’. Upon joining the Khalsa, one is not allowed to remove or cut the hair on one’s body, one is to wear the Five K’s or indicators of the Khalsa at all times, one is not to partake in any intoxicants, and one is to live one’s life as the embodiment of the Tenth Guru along with following a number of other conditions. Guru Gobind Singh’s aim was to create a fearless brotherhood of spiritual men and women who would fight in the name of justice and equality and who would be recognisable by their appearance, thus preventing a repeat of the fear that seemed to grip the Sikhs at the time of the death of Guru Tegh Bahadur.

Vaisakhi is celebrated today as a confirmation of one’s own religious identity and a rededication of one’s faith as well as a birthday for the Sikh religion. In that same vein, Vaisakhi is a time of year when one looks at one’s own identity and considers what it means to be a Sikh. It is quite easy to forget the gift of identity that Guru Gobind Singh bestowed upon Sikhs, and when the issue of sexuality comes into the equation, it can make that identity even more fraught. Over 300 years have passed since the Khalsa was created and yet the turban, long hair and unshorn beard remain the distinguishing features for many Sikh men, as well as the middle names of Kaur (‘Princess’) for Sikh women and Singh (‘Lion’) for Sikh men.

The keeping of long hair and beards for men is probably the most difficult aspect of Sikhism for many people to maintain in the present day, and this is particularly the case for those individuals who are gay. The pressure is usually on gay men to look a certain way and follow the fashions and trends for that part of the world, and being a ‘Keshdhari’ Sikh (‘one who keeps uncut hair’) goes against the grain of that way of thinking. This often causes gay Keshdhari Sikh men specifically to turn against their religious beliefs, with many deciding to cut their hair in order to fit in with what it means to be gay in the 21st Century. Some have come to see the keeping of long hair and the wearing of a turban to be a restriction imposed upon their identity, especially at a time when turbans and long beards are associated in the Western World with fundamentalist Islamic beliefs rather than with Sikhism.

To say that it is not easy to be both a Keshdhari Sikh and a gay man would be an understatement. Some view the keeping of long hair as being irreconcilable with life as a gay man or woman in that it sets him or her apart from the majority of gay people on account of their external appearance, making that individual feel like an outsider when he or she may be looking for acceptance from within the gay community. However, the idea of keeping long hair is again tied up with the concept of Sikh identity. It is the idea of being unafraid of recognition, of standing out from the crowd, and of being proud of one’s heritage and identity. Rather than wanting to join the masses and look the same as the majority of gay men and women, Keshdhari Sikhs should be proud that their long hair make them instantly recognisable and memorable amongst those masses. Having a unique identity is a definite advantage in the present day where one interacts with countless identical-looking individuals on a daily basis that one would have difficulty in otherwise recalling.

Keshdhari Sikhs should also bear in mind the sacrifices that were made by Sikhs throughout history in order to protect the freedom of all religions, not just Sikhism, as was evident by Guru Tegh Bahadur’s beheading whilst protecting the rights of religious practice for the Kashmiri Hindus. Such sacrifices were often symbolic too, as in the case of the Sikhs who refused to have their hair cut and instead were scalped to protect the integrity of their religious beliefs. Sikhs have a rich history which is intertwined with their identity, a history which can be easily overlooked at times.

Vaisakhi should be celebrated as the festival of one’s personal as well as religious identity. Being Keshdhari Sikh and gay are not incompatible ways of being. The identity that one has can be changed if one so wishes, but before one considers changing it one should look at the reasons behind that identity and then determine whether such a change is worth making. Guru Gobind Singh gave Sikhs their present identity, and it is ours to keep or discard as we so wish. However, one should remember that whilst fashions will come and go over time, the teachings of the Gurus will not change and the Guru in the form of the Guru Granth Sahib will always be accessible to Sikhs and non-Sikhs, Keshdhari and non-Keshdhari alike.

A very happy Vaisakhi to everyone.

Guru Nanak – Message of Equality
Nov 21st, 2007 by admin

21st November 2007

Guru Nanak Dev Ji is the founder of Sikhism. Although it is believed that Guru Nanak was actually born sometime around the festival of Vaisakhi in April 1469[1], his birth is traditionally celebrated 15 days after Diwali in accordance with the lunar calendar. In 2007, this anniversary will take place on 24th November.

It was exactly 500 years ago in 1507 that the Guru began to preach his beliefs throughout central and southern Asia. The fundamentals of Guru Nanak’s philosophy are the belief in one God for the whole of mankind, that all religions are pathways to that same God, that all equal regardless of caste or gender, education for all, and the creation of an inclusive society by the redistribution of wealth. If looked at from a secular and socio-political viewpoint, Guru Nanak can been seen as a predecessor to Marx and Engels.

Guru Nanak’s travels as a preacher took him as far afield as Mecca, Baghdad, Tibet, and Sri Lanka. There are numerous accounts of Guru Nanak’s travels that have collated in the Janamsakhis (literally ‘birth stories’). These accounts were written in the aftermath of the death of Guru Nanak, and in that respect are quite similar to the Gospels relating to Jesus within the Christian tradition. Although the historical veracity of some of the Janamsakhis is questionable, they provide information as to the context of Guru Nanak’s teachings as well as provide vivid illustrations of his teachings in action. The Janamsakhis also have their basis within the legends and oral tradition concerning Guru Nanak passed on from generation to generation.[2]

One of the most famous of these stories or legends concerns a visit by Guru Nanak, accompanied by his faithful friend Mardana, to Eminabad in present-day Pakistan. Whilst there, Guru Nanak decided to stay with a low caste individual called Bhai Lallo who was an impoverished but hard working carpenter. Bhai Lallo shared his humble food with the Guru and Mardana for the duration of their stay with him. After a few days at Bhai Lallo’s home, Guru Nanak was invited by a wealthy government official of the same caste as himself called Malak Bhago to a feast that was being held in honour of all eminent individuals in the area. It should be noted here that Guru Nanak was born into a Hindu family.

Guru Nanak refused the invitation and Malak Bhago, who was angered at that refusal, ordered the Guru to attend his property and explain the refusal. The Guru asked Bhai Lallo to come with him to Malak Bhago’s home and to bring a chapatti with him. When he was questioned by Malak Bhago as to why he continued to stay at the home of someone who was of a lower caste and bring shame upon his own caste by his actions by refusing to dine with his own caste, Guru Nanak replied that he wanted a chapatti from Malak Bhago.

The chapatti was placed in a plate before him, and Guru Nanak then asked Bhai Lallo to give him the chapatti that he had made at home. The Guru then proceeded to squeeze both of the chapattis. The chapatti from Malak Bhago produced droplets of blood whilst the chapatti from Bhai Lallo gave droplets of milk. The astonished crowd asked what this meant. Guru Nanak’s reply was that Bhai Lallo was a hard working and dedicated worker who lived a pure life, and this was reflected in his food. Malak Bhago, however, earned his living through the blood, sweat and tears of others by corrupt and dishonest means, and again this was reflected in his feast.[3]

Another story related to Guru Nanak states that he stayed at the home of a leper during his travels as no-one else was willing to accommodate the Guru in that area, and as a result of the Guru’s stay, the leper was cured of his leprosy.

The Janamsakhis also give an account of Guru Nanak visiting the home of an excessively wealthy man who had several flags outside of his home, each of which represented 100,000 rupees that he had accumulated. Guru Nanak asked the man to carry a needle into the next world for him, and when the reply came that it was impossible for the needle to carried after one has died, the Guru then asked how he expected his wealth to follow him after his death. The man, understanding what the Guru had meant, then redistributed a portion of his wealth to the poor in his area.[4]

Regardless of what one’s view is of the miracles attributed to Guru Nanak, the general theme to be taken from these stories is that all people should be treated as equal, that one should work hard in one’s life in order to reap honest rewards, that one should contribute to society in whatever way possible, and that one should never shirk from one’s responsibility to others.

Guru Nanak’s philosophy and teachings continue to have resonance today. It is only by treating individuals as equals that a truly inclusive society can exist. In that context, shunning or judging people because of their sexuality, for example, is morally wrong and contradicts Guru Nanak’s teachings. Guru Nanak challenged the prejudices that existed in society in 16th century Southern and Central Asia. Five hundred years may have passed since Guru Nanak commenced his travels, but many of those prejudices are still strong and new prejudices have emerged over time, such as homophobia.

The only way that such prejudices can be challenged is through egalitarianism and education. These prejudices will fade over time, just as caste is no longer a major barrier to employment or success in one’s life.[5] The question is how a society can be truly egalitarian in the way that Guru Nanak envisioned it to be whilst inequalities continue to be perpetuated by individuals.

Sikhism is a reformist religion, closer in many respects to Socialism than to some other belief systems. By allowing Sikhism to become a conservative rather than a progressive movement, it is a rejection of Guru Nanak’s stance on equality for all. In one of his earliest compilations, Guru Nanak stated that:

Virtue and Vice do not come by mere words,
Actions repeated over and over again are engraved on the soul [6]

Until we heed these words, live by these teachings and act to make society truly egalitarian, Guru Nanak’s message of equality will continue to fall on deaf ears. It is up to each of us, collectively and as individuals, to take action and ensure that this message of equality becomes more than just a mere message and is transformed into a reality.



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[1] http://www.sgpc.net/gurus/gurunanak.asp, which gives the date as being 15 April 1469
[2] http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php?title=Janam_Sakhi for more information about Janamsakhis
[3] http://www.sacred-texts.com/skh/tsr1/tsr107.htm
[4] http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Guru_Nanak_and_Duni_Chand
[5]http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F01EFDD173AF935A15754C0A961958260&n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/People/N/Narayanan,%20K.%20R for the appointment of a Low Caste Hindu as Indian President in 1997.
[6] http://www.sikhnet.com/sggs/translation/0004.html – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p.4, verse 20.

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