Over 120 Sikh children from ages 7-17 traveled from all over the United States and Canada to be part of the week-long Camp Gurmat, a Sikh youth camp organized by the Washington-based Guru Gobind Singh Foundation sand took place in a green, wooded facility in Rockville, in the suburbs of Washington D.C.
Dr. Rajwant Singh and Gagan Kaur Narang taught the campers the history of Guru Nanak and how he had a vision of gender equality as they discussed the question of why Sikh women are not performing kirtan at the Golden Temple when Guru Nanak himself spoke about the rights of the women in society and had advocated their full participation in all aspects of society.
“What we have discovered is that Sikh women have played an important and critical role in strengthening the journey of the Sikh faith for the last 500 years. The first Sikh was Bebe Nanki, and she played a key role in organizing the community during its infancy, also supporting her brother, Guru Nanak Dev Ji,” said Singh.
“Similarly, Mata Khivi, who is the only Sikh woman mentioned in the Sikh scriptures, is the main person who popularized langar, a vegetarian community meal which is still in practice. Her daughter, Bibi Amro, was also installed as a Sikh preacher by Guru Amardas, the third Sikh guru,” he added.
“Being a Sikh woman, this year’s theme was very close to my heart. It gave us an opportunity to explore the most important Sikh value- equality for all! It was amazing to see our young Singhs and Kaurs get excited about learning more and more about our brave and courageous historical and contemporary Kaurs,” said Narang.
Priya Kaur Narang, an aspiring health professional who has been attending the camp since she was 7-years-old, said that being a head counselor at the camp for the first time, she was happy they were focusing on women’s issues this year.
“One thing that I would like everyone to take away from a theme like Sikh Women is that we should recognize the brave Kaurs in our history for their contributions, and not for their relationship (mother, sister, daughter, etc.) to someone else,” she said
“As Sikhs, we need to not only preach the Guru’s message and equality, but also practice it to the best of our ability. And this includes speaking up when we see inequality in our houses, gurdwaras, and communities so we can be better represent the Sikh faith,” she added.
“Punjabi culture has polluted the minds of Sikhs everywhere to a point where dowry, female infanticide, and the objectification of women has become normal in everyday thoughts and language,” said Tejpaul Singh, who is pursuing a Masters and PhD in Sikh Studies.
“Negative views on women throughout media and in everyday life have taken a front seat to the Gurus’ philosophies of equity and equality. We need to stop treating women like they are slaves, property, or burdens on our families and treat them like Queens and Warriors; just as our Guru’s continuously remind us to,” he added.
During the entire week, Sikh youth sang the theme shabad “So Kion Munda Aakhiye, Jit Jamey Raajaan” written by Guru Nanak which exhorts that women be treated with respect and fairness.
Bhai Gurdarshan Singh selected a few other shabads as well which conveyed the message of God’s plan of the universe and that each and every being, regardless of caste, creed, race, religion, gender, or background, should be treated equally as part of the creation.
“A group of college-going and young professionals were the team of over 25 counselors who organized the camp creatively to prompt critical thinking among the attendees, as well to inspire them to take action for the betterment of the community and ultimately, the world,” said Hargurpreet Singh, a State of Maryland official, who has been managing the camp for the last 25 years with the help of over 30 volunteers and parents.
“These camps provide a safe and stimulating environment for Sikh kids to see themselves as change agents,” he added.
Along with learning philosophy and history, campers also learned kirtan, tabla playing, taught by Bhai Sucha Sing and Gatka, a Sikh martial art taught by Jaswant Singh Bal, Harjot Singh, Japneet Kaur, Inderbir Singh and Tejpaul Singh.