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The Singh-Kaur debate in Sikh history (02)

May 25, 2008

Just finished reading the first chapter of ‘Relocating Gender in Sikh History’. I must say, with the research questions and the theoretical location of the author, Doris Jakobsh, the first chapter sets up the book for an interesting read. The book is based on a theoretical analysis of gender construction in Sikh history.

Jakobsh’s research questions are:

“In speaking specifically about Sikh history, what is the process whereby the category of woman and the category of man are constructed? How have these categories changed over time? Were there specific instances, moments in history, when this construction process assumed a vital importance to the self-understanding of the developing Sikh community?” [20]

Where is the author coming from? Following Joan Wallach Scott, she employs a radical feminist epistemology, and also implies employing the Paul Ricoeur‘s model of ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’. (Though she discusses Ricoeur’s approach in the context of another scholar’s work (Nikki Singh) and does not state it as her own approach, as per my reading, I ‘suspect’ it is the approach she too follows. However, a further reading of the book will clarify this point.)

She cites Clarence McMullen’s distinction between normative and operative beliefs, which right away makes sense to me. On page 8, she writes:

“Clarence McMullen notes that in speaking of the religious beliefs and practices of Sikhs, that it is necessary to make a distinction between what he labels normative and what he calls operative beliefs (1989:5). “Normative beliefs and practices are those which are officially stated and prescribed or proscribed by a recognized religious authority, which can be a person, organization, or an official statement. Operative beliefs and practices, on the other hand, are those that are actually held by people”.

My current understanding of Sikhism tells me this is true to a large extent. I have noticed distinct differences between the operative and normative beliefs in Sikh community on many issues such as caste, rituals, gender, etc. I am curious to read the differences observed in the book. One of the purposes to read this book will now be to see the differences between ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be’ in Sikh society and culture. Though Jakobsh is explicit about her purpose to highlight inconsistencies in her study on gender in Sikh history, I hope that she describes the consistencies as well. It will be disappointing if the exercise turns out to be only some form of bashing.

[In my previous post, I had written that I would start with the Chapter 11 of Dr. Baldev’s work. I have a draft of that posting ready but will put it up later. I realized I would be jumping the gun were I to start with a discussion of the critique (of the work) than the work itself. Hence, starting with the book.]

Here’s Part-1

Here’s Part-3

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Dr. Doris Jakobsh permalink
    August 6, 2008 11:21 pm

    Hello Mr. Singh!

    Have been reading your blog with interest. I will also be looking forward to more of your response to my book if they are forthcoming.

    Glad to see that it is being read!

    Doris Jakobsh

  2. Mr. Singh permalink*
    August 7, 2008 3:20 pm

    Dr. Doris Jakobsh,
    Thanks for your interest in this blog. Yes, I have been reading your book and taking notes and intend to put them up soon. Perhaps I should just start putting them up in bits and pieces rather than in the complete version I had earlier thought of.

    I must say that your book is interesting, provoking and educating me in Sikhi in two ways: one, it tells me things about the Sikh history and culture that I did not know earlier, or knew but am now looking at the same information from a different perspective, and secondly, to doublecheck some of your arguments that I am not totally convinced about has required me to seek and read more of Sikh literature.

    I will keep you updated on these postings and hope to engage in a conversation with you on this topic.

  3. kamallarosekaur permalink
    August 9, 2008 8:09 am

    Blessing Mr. Singh,

    I too am really interested in what you think of Dr. Jakobsh’s book. I have witnessed Sikhs reacting to rumors about this book without having read the book. Not that it is an easy read. It isn’t.

    Here is my write-up on this subject called:

    Dr. Doris Jakobsh O My!

  4. Mr. Singh permalink*
    August 11, 2008 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the link to your discussion of Dr. Jakobsh’s book. You are right, the book isn;t an easy read. Perhaps that’s the reason the subtleties of the argument are being missed? Will have my next post on the book.


  1. The Singh-Kaur debate in Sikh history - 03 « KUDIMAARI
  2. The Singh-Kaur debate in Sikh history (01) « KUDIMAARI

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