The Singh-Kaur debate in Sikh history (02)
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?” 
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.]