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Introduction to Sikhism
Introduction to Sikhism

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: Introduction to Sikhism: Contents

Section VII: Sikhism & Modern Problems

  1. What is the Sikh attitude to dancing?
  2. What is the Sikh attitude to divorce?
  3. What is the Sikh attitude to Family-planning?
  4. What is the Sikh attitude to mercy-killing?

Q122.What is the Sikh attitude to dancing?

Dancing is a mode of entertainment in western countries. Sikhism applies the general test mentioned in the Scripture to any entertainment, namly, "Avoid that which causes pain or harm to the body or produces evil thoughts in the mind." (A.G.p 16) Dancing with partners of the opposite sex is likely to cause sensuous thoughts, for intimate bodily movement rouse the lower passions.

However, cultural dances like Bhangra, Gidda, Tiranjan etc. are not forbidden, but these should not be performed in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib. Such dances are meant for social occasions or festivals and have no religious significance. There are other religious dances which are done by the Hindus (as for example Ras-Lila), and also by Muslim Sufi mystics. Such dances are not permitted in Sikhism. What the Guru permitted was 'the dance of the mind', and not of the body. The Guru says:

"O my mind, dance before the Guru;
If you dance according to the will of the Guru
You will gain happiness, and the fear of death will vanish."
(AG, 506)
This kind of dance is the result of spiritual ecstasy, and is free from physical jerking and gymnastics.

Similar is the Sikh attitude to Discotheque. Disco is a blend of physical movements related to loud pop music. The lights in the hall or the room are deliberately kept dim to enable the partners to get closer and make love easier. As disco is likely to arouse sexual feelings, it is not permitted to the Sikhs. Dances purely for the promotion of physical health or fitness are not taboo. Similarly dating or mixing of boys with girls alone for the purpose of illicit love or petting or flirting is forbidden in Sikhism. However, the meeting of a boy with a girl in the presence of their parents or elders of the community in connection with a marriage proposal is permissible.

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Q123. What is the Sikh attitude to divorce?

Sikhism favour family life and monogamy. The ideal family is one where there is mutual love and respect between the husband and the wife and their children and grand children if any. The Anand Marriage Act, 1909, gave a wife status equal to that of her husband. The marriage establishes a permanant relationship between the partners and there is no provision for a divorce under this Act, for the Sikh marriage (Anand Karaj) is a sacrament and not a civil contract. However, in olden times if the marriage broke down, the woman would leave her husband and go and stay with her parents. Nowadays, the partners may live separately, or apply for a divorce after some time, under the Hindu code or the civil marriage Act. At that time, it is for the court to decide to grant a divorce or not, and in case the divorce is decided by the Court, it may make a provision for the support of the woman and the custory of the children and their maintenance. The Sikhs have no Personal Law, but they are covered under the Hindu Code in India. However, in certain cases, the custom of chaddar, which implies the present of a bedsheet by a man to a woman indicating his decision to take her as his wife is legal in Punjab.

Generally, grounds like cruelty, adultery, change of religion, suffering from an incurable disease and in some cases incompatiblity of temperaments are accepted by Courts for purposes of divorce. A second marriage after divorce is permissible. The remarriage of a widow or widower is encouraged in Sikhism.

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Q124. What is the Sikh attitude to Family-planning?

In olden times, the problem of family-planning did not exist. Even today in areas where population is scanty and resources adequate, family-planning is not necessary. This does not mean that excessive indulgence in sex becomes desirable. The Gurus told their followers to excercise self-control and to regulate sex sensibly. The Gurus recommended the middle way between self-indulgence and abstinance. Excessive sex was taboo as it led to sorrow and sickness.

Sikhism accepts the common-sense approach to family-planning. It is for the couple to decide whether they want family-planning or not, and in case the answer is in the affirmative, the mode or technique thereof. Family-planning may be necessary for health of the partners or the nursing or up-bringing of existing children. However, natural methods of contraception are preferred to artificial methods and devices. Even so, family-planning should not be under-taken without competent medical advice and supervision. There are no injuctions in Sikhism against the use of contraceptives. Abortion is a taboo, as it is an interference in the creative work of God. If the conception has taken place, it would be a sin to destroy life and hence deliberate miscarriage or abortion is forbidden. Similarly, experimenting with embroys and genes is discouraged. Contraception for the purpose of avoiding the results of illicit sex is also forbidden.

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Q125. What is the Sikh attitude to mercy-killing?

Today there is a lot of pressure on politicians to legalize mercy-killing. In certain countries, mercy killing of patients suffering from incurable diseases or termnal illness has been regulated by law. It is left either to the discretion of the physician or the patient. Recently a new Society named "EXIT" has been started in Great Britain, which supports the right of the individual to die with dignity and its literature contains some instructions for those who desire a painless suicide. The tendency towards the death- wish is fostered by present-day tensions and the conflicts of our competitive society. Mental illness is on the increase, and some people, in a fit of depression, may welcome death as a relief from the torture of living.

What is the Sikh view on this important subject of Euthanasia or mercy-killing? Is it right to end a life on account of the pain and agony faced by the patient? Is the physician under a duty to end life, when the terminally ill patient asks for relief in death? The Gurus regarded suffering as a result of man's Karma. Man must have the moral courage to bear his suffering without lament. He should pray for the grace of God to enable him to put up with pain in a spirit of resignation and surrender.

There is no place for mercy-killing in Sikhism. The Gurus tackled the problem of sickness and suffering by providing medical relief and alleviation of pain. Guru Arjan built a leprosarium at Tarn-Taran. Guru Har Rai established a hospital at Kiratpur. It is reported that he supplied a rare herb to emperor Jahangir for the serious illness of his son. After all suffering is a part of the human condition and has a place in God's scheme. Suffering also prompts man to turn his thoughts to God; "Suffering is a medicine; happiness is a disease."

The Gurus rejected suicide, as it is an interference in God's plan. Many Sikhs faced torture and ultimate death at the hands of tyrant rulers and fanatic leaders, though they could have found relief through suicide. Birth and death are the prerogatives of God and under His command, and it is no business of man to oppose the Divine Will.

Recently, the Pope condemned mercy-killing and suicide as opposed to God's will and declared it a crime of the utmost gravity. It is the duty of the State and society to alleviate the suffering of citizens by medicine, surgery or psychological treatment. Even the expert physician has no right as such to end life. If he cannot cure or heal, he should not destroy life.

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