Why women are not admitted to SGPC-run Sikh missionary colleges

Anju Agnihotri Chaba
Sikh devotees wait to offer prayers at Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) (File/PTI Photo)

During the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev at Sultanpur Lodhi, several women parcharaks and women kirtani jathas performed at both the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Punjab government’s stage.

However, Sikh women are not allowed admission in SGPC-run Sikh missionary colleges even though the Sikh Gurus have always advocated gender equality. The Indian Express explains the courses offered by these institutes and why Sikh women are deprived of them

What is the purpose of the SGPC-run Sikh missionary colleges?

These colleges aim to produce parcharaks (propagators of Sikh religion) and Kirtan Raagis (those who sing religious text and devotional songs). Dedicated religious study is the sole purpose of these colleges.

What is on offer at such colleges?

The Sikh missionary colleges offer three year Kirtan (Gurmat Sangeet), Tabla Vadak and Parcharak courses. The students need to stay at the college throughout three years. A new batch is admitted only after the previous batch has graduated. A maximum 50 students can be admitted to each course but in majority of these colleges, the seats remain vacant.

These courses are free of cost and boarding and lodging charges are borne by the SGPC, which also gives a monthly stipend of Rs 1,200 to each student. The classes starts at 4 am and continue till 8 pm with breaks for breakfast and lunch. Only male students are admitted to these colleges, mostly after completing 10+2.

According to SGPC there are over a dozen Sikh missionary colleges with four of them located in other states - Gurmat Sangeet Academy Shekhupura Manchuri, Karnal in Haryana, Sant Fateh Singh Chanan Singh Sikh Missionary College, Budha Johar (Sri Ganga Nagar) in Rajasthan, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Gurmat Vidyala Rajpur in Chhattisgarh and Sri Guru Ram Das Gurmat Sangeet Vidyala Railway Colony Roza, Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh.

What are the opportunities for students who complete their course from here?

A student pursuing Kirtan course, where he is taught about all 31 raags and are trained on the saaz (instruments) too, can become a ‘Raagi’ or a music teachers. They can also pursue masters degree in music. Those pursuing Parcharak course - where they learn about the five banis (Japji Sahib, Jaap Sahib, Tav-Prasad Savaiye, Chaupai and Anand Sahib) and other religious scriptures - can become ‘Pathis’ (religious teachers) or Granthi at gurdwaras and lecturers in schools and colleges.

Can girls pursue religious studies at the other schools and colleges run by the SGPC?

SGPC has been running various schools and colleges across Punjab and several other states including Himachal, J&K, and Haryana where girl students can pursue ‘Gurmat studies’ as a subject .

Then why the discrimination against the girls at the Sikh missionary colleges?

There is no rule barring the Sikh woman from taking admission in Sikh Missionary Colleges but, SGPC officials, says that when such colleges were set up as long back as 1927, the ‘Gurmat education’ was not very prevalent among the Sikh woman and mostly men used to opt for it. It gradually became a tradition that only men will become Parcharaks and Ragis. “The students at these colleges are required to stay in the hostels and majority of the institutes were not ready to take the responsibility of the girls,” said a senior staff member at one of the missionary colleges.

“Going by the huge interest shown by the Sikh women, we have discussed opening a separate college for them. The SGPC has already started enrolling the women Parcharaks now,” said Bibi Jagir Kaur, the only woman to have remained SGPC president.

Is there any women staff in these colleges?

Prof Majit Kaur was the first woman staff appointed as ‘Gurmat Sidhant’ teacher in 2003 in Amritsar Missionary College. In January 2019, she was appointed as the principal of the same college. Two more women were appointed at the same college of which one has retired and the other will retire in a couple of years. Prof Kaur said that she had completed her graduation and post graduation in ‘Gurmat’ studies from Guramt College Patiala.

“Now more girls are coming forward seeking to pursue ‘Parcharak’ and Kirtan courses. We are hopeful that soon these girls will get admission in the Sikh Missionary colleges too,” she said, adding that they have been making efforts in this direction for the past 8-10 years.

She said that almost all the universities in Punjab and several private institutes too are now offering Gurmat education and SGPC would certainly allow girls in Sikh Missionary colleges too.