The stance, tone and tenor of Doris R. Jakobsch in her book Relocating Gender in Sikh History is anti-Sikh. It aims to denigrate the pure khalsa traditions. The author gleefully highlights the negative and anti-Sikh viewpoints with great details, brushing aside the Sikh viewpoint summarily.
Jakobsch does not relish the consolidation of Sikh customs and rites and dubs it as an attempt to establish separate identity of Sikhism. Her remarks about the Anand Marriage Bill as “novel Sikh identity marker and ritual” are also in the same direction. It is inspite of her quoting Petrie that ‘there is no community that is not fired with the idea of consolidating and improving itself to the utmost of power.”
Jakobsch further discusses the Anand Marriage Bill in Chapter Six of the book, which is entitled as ‘Extending Male Control’. It is, however, difficult to understand or even imagine how Anand Marriage Act extended male control. She comments that Anand Marriages were mainly associated with Namdhari and Nirankari and both were well outside of the Tat Khalsa realms. It is submitted that no doubt Namdharis and Nirankaris had taken the lead to popularize the Anand Marriages but these marriages were a part of general Sikh tradition from the beginning and were not peculiar to them alone.
In fact Guru Amar Das, a great social reformer, had simplified the Sikh marriage by dispensing with the vedic rituals. He ordained his successor Guru Ram Das to preside over some marriage ceremonies when Brahmins had refused to conduct the same. The sixth and the tenth Guru also popularized Anand marriages. This customary rite had fallen into some disuse because Sikhs had to pass through difficult times. Later Maharaja Ranjit Singh did not take sufficient interest to revive and popularize it.
Doris gleefully quotes anti-Sikh elements to call offsprings of Anand Marriages as bastards, haramzadas, and illegitimates in the same breath. No doubt the basic reason to get this Act passed was to shut up Brahmins who were propagating that Anand marriages were not valid marriages and their offsprings are illegitimate. In fact their earnings from solemnization of marriage were being adversely affected due to the popularity of Anand Marriages.
So those Brahmins along with other Sikh baiters started a campaign against Anand marriages. The Sikhs asserted the passage of the Act so that none could question the validity of a marriage solemnized through Anand ceremony and the legitimacy of children of such marriages. The Sikhs certainly wanted to demonstrate the independent and separate status of Sikhism by getting the Anand Marriage Act, meant exclusively for the Sikhs, passed.
Doris says that the “proponents initially found support for the Bill among the populace; the acclamation, however, quickly dissipated as the actual wording came to be analysed” (p. 180). The fact of dissipating the support of the Bill is incorrect. In reality resolutions came in thousands from various Sikh organisations, village panchayats and Sikhs in India and abroad supporting the Bill after it was published in the Gazette of India and other local official gazettes. There was widespread support for the Bill from all sections of the Sikh community. The author herself quotes Lt. Governor of Punjab’s speech, although she draws a totally different conclusion from it, wherein he noted, “the Tikka Sahib’s Bill has behind it the popular support of the vast majority of the Sikh Community”. She herself notes the zeal and mobilization for the Bill as petitions poured from all over the world.
Doris quotes anti-Sikh sources to present frivolous arguments for the use of the Anand Marriage Act by wealthy Sikhs to marry Muslim and Christian ladies and the consequent takeover of landed properties and jagirs by their non-Sikh children. She is unaware that marriages of Sikh males with non-Sikhs were judicially upheld by the Punjab Chief Court in Dhalip Kanwar v. Fatti (1913 PR 99) and Sodlic v. Sher Singh (1895 PR 50).
Jakobsch states that some Tat Khalsa members were taken aback by the charges of marriage with foreigner ladies, and they distanced from the mover of the Bill; and Singh Sabha leader came to know about the Bill only after its introduction in the Council. These statements are totally incorrect and lack substance.
Doris is critical of the Act that it did nothing to improve the precarious position of women in Sikh society. She refers to criticism by others for non-inclusion of provisions as to age limit, divorce, monogamy, registration of marriages etc. Further, she comments that the Act was clearly problematic to large number of Sikhs and Hindus and it widened the rifts amongst the Sikhs also.
She fails to note that the preamble mentions that the Act was passed only to remove doubts as to the validity of the Anand Marriage ceremony. So it was meant only to confirm marriages solemnized through Anand ceremony. The Act was not meant to codify the whole law relating to Sikh marriages. It is clearly mentioned in the speech of S. Sunder Singh which she herself has quoted. Section 3(a) lays down,
“Nohing in this Act shall apply to marriages between persons not professing the Sikh religion.”
Further it is not clear how and what problem the Act created for Hindus who were supposed to have no concern. Besides, the Sikhs were happy and satisfied on the passing of this Act.
Doris wrongly assumes collusion between the British and the Sikhs in passing this Act. She also alleges that it deepened communal rivalry between Arya Samaj and Singh Sabha. Perhaps she wanted that Sikhs had sacrificed their interests at the alter of communal harmony, and neither does not seem to relish the separate Sikh identity in the Indian Army. Further Jakobsch makes a U-turn saying that the Government acquiesised to the passing of the Bill for the fear that Tat Khalsa might mobilize against it. Political stability is cited as the reason to pass the Act, and not the merit of the Sikh cause.
In her attempt to highlight the failure of the Bill after 20 years of its working, Doris fails to note its successful working even after the passing of a century. She further finds fault for not prescribing the exact mode of actual form of Anand Ceremony in the Act. It is submitted that there is no ambiguity in this regard amongst the Sikhs thus there was no necessity for the same.
She laments that women’s cause was deemed insignificant in the whole process. She ignores the fact that the Act was specifically meant to serve women’s cause by silencing those who were calling women married through Anand ceremonies as ‘keeps or concubines’. Doris has wrongly dubbed the whole process concerning the Act as an effort to promote Singh Sabha political designs. On the whole Doris’s attempt and mission seems to criticize and denigrate the Sikhs and their institutions. Too much space is devoted to some nasty arguments having no relevance and substance.
The concluding chapter of every book is usually meant to consolidate the results and findings in the preceding chapters. Hardly any new topic is touched upon in the last chapter. But Doris refers to an entirely new thing in the last chapter entitled as “conclusions” in the final two pages of the book.
Quite insensitive to the emotions of the Sikhs she quotes an insignificant and perfidious booklet depicting Mata Ganga asking Bhai Budha for niyoga. She seems to mention this insinuating falsehood to defame Sikhism and the Sikh Gurus and also to show that the Sikhs are part of Hindus as they followed their customary rules. She mentions it under the lame excuse that Sikh women had vehemently opposed these remarks. Then she goes on to explain how Swami Dayanand defined and explained niyoga and wasted almost a full page of the book on this as it is totally out of context.
Following niyoga in Sikh Guru’s families is beyond imagination. Recognition of niyoga even by Hindus is ironical and astounding as the principles of morality and chastity are sacrificed for fulfilling the desire to have a son. The custom of niyoga has only been in name and it was rejected even by the Hindus. It has never been prevalent among them, rather it is obsolete since long (see Mayne’s Hindu Law, 13th ed., p. 104). To allege such practices in the families of Sikh Gurus, who were condemning all unholy and immoral practices prevalent amongst Hindus, is totally blasphemous.
The author is not familiar with Indian traditions. She may not know that people approach religious places and personalities to seek their blessings for progeny. Various historians have mentioned that Mata Ganga got the blessings of Baba Budha ji, a highly pious and respected authority, before the birth of Guru Hargobind. Aspersion like niyoga on Guru’s spouse and pious personality are simply to defame Sikh and Sikhism.
The pamphlet Doris has refered to was written during the time when Swami Dayanand had started a campaign against Sikhism, and he publicly cut the kesh of a number of Sikhs to perform shudhi. Dayanand made disparaging remarks against Guru Nanak Dev ji in his book Satyarth Prakash. As Swami Dayanand withdrew those remarks later on, it is likely the remarks in the said pamphlet might have also been withdrawn.
An author of a book on Sikhs should think over umpteen times before including such perfidious remarks about the great and pious personality of Sikhism. She cannot do this under the garb that Sikh women had become quite vocal to oppose such writings. The author seems to have bent upon including this improper reference in the book she had collected or received from some anti-Sikh source and which she failed to include in the previous pages.