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Question of Identity

Rukmini Sen

By Doris R. Jakobsh
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 383, Rs. 795.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 9 September 2010

This is an important scholarly work within the broader framework of sociology of religion, where Indian sociologists like M.N. Srinivas, T.N. Madan, Dipankar Gupta and Rowena Robinson have contributed over the years. The concepts discussed had been ethnicity, pluralism, religious institutions and religious texts. This book discusses all of this and more from a women’s studies lens. There are fourteen articles, with a comprehensive introduction by Doris Jakobsh and Eleanor Nesbitt contextualizing the issues that emerge in the articles. The question of identity is a common thread in all the articles. There are several moments in the transformation of this identity—one that is created in the sacred texts, gets transformed during Sikh Renaissance, one threatened during the 1980s in India, and another challenged in post 9/11 USA for the diaspora Sikh community, besides, obviously, an independent complexity about the diaspora Sikh community identity. The book comprises articles on re-reading sacred texts and scriptures, marriage and kinship groups, impact of symbols and rituals on women’s lives, occupational patterns among Sikh women, migration patterns pertaining to women. Through textual studies, in-depth interviews, content analysis of advertisements, various qualitative research methodological ways have been adopted to understand the experience of Sikh women in their own voice and how they are represented in Sikh society. The first article discusses the importance of the Dasam Granth and its implications for constructions of gender in Sikhism. Gender is a central component in this text with respect to the nature of divinity because of the goddess mythology and with respect to the nature of men’s and women’s inherent characteristics and behavioural inclinations as described in Charitropakhian. In the latter, notions of a dangerous female sexuality, deceitful women responsible for extra-marital relationships or being disloyal in love affairs are the dominant portrayals. Continuing with representations, Purnima Dhavan discusses the masculine norms present within 18th century texts like Rahitnamas (Codes of Conduct). Men became normative members in the new warrior community, while women were viewed in a more negative light—excluded from the initiation rite, the bearing of weapons and seen as a danger to the disciplined moral behaviour of warrior-saints of Khalsa. With this khastriya identity dominating, women became symbols of a clan’s honour and also important elements in sealing political relationships through marriage alliances. Besides looking into sacred texts’ myths on Sikh women, there is also an important article on ...

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