What was your personal inspiration for being a part of SAFAR – The Sikh Feminist Research Institute?
My inspiration was Sikhi. I identify as a Sikh feminist, something I believe Sikhi, Gurbani and history teach us to identify as. What I mean is, that the idea of challenging the status quo, questioning power and oppression, standing up against dominance, asserting equity and sifting out hypocrisies both internal and external – which are inherent core values and practices of Sikhi seen throughout history, sakhis and the Gurbani that we read everyday- are now also values that are at the
core of feminism. However, they were cultivated not very long ago in the Western realm through decades of women’s commitment to community and academic development. Feminism avails me the language, academic support and dialogue that I now use as a tool to articulate and express the expansive and revolutionary wisdom, politics and message of Sikhi – for both my community and for me personally.
When I learned about SAFAR’s Our Journeys Conference in 2011, from friends in Toronto, I knew that I had to attend. Thanks to the kind mentorship and encouragement from its organizers, I prepared and presented a paper on something close to my heart: the radical potentiality of women’s hair. I researched and spoke about Sikh women and the politics of body hair at the conference. I felt, as did the women I interviewed, that little to no attention is paid to the particular experience of keshdhari Sikh women, who are trying to be strong Sikhs and claim the feminine at the same time. I found that they felt they had failed expectations on two fronts: from mainstream society obsessed with child-like clean bodies, and from the Sikh communities themselves, which can have double-standards about male and female Sikh identity expectations depending on the context: communal, familial, private or public. It was an honor to be able to share something in a safe and supportive environment; one that carried with it the potential risk and vulnerabilities in being presented for the first time.
The energy at the Conference, the community experienced and the possibilities I came to imagine with everyone, played a large role in my joining the SAFAR Board. This is my third year on the Board and I am now the Acting Executive Director of the organization. The journey hasn’t ended there: my role in SAFAR has inspired me to organize Kaurs Talk Politics, present on Sikhi in multi-faith forums, develop and organize workshops at high schools and continue research initiatives. In addition, it was an honor to be a part of the team bringing the first Sikh Feminist Conference to my own stomping grounds of Vancouver, BC in 2012. Now, in 2014, we are bringing the first Sikh feminist conference to the US – it is very exciting!
What does the motto of the conference, “To Know is Not Enough,” mean to you? What do you hope it inspires in others?
It means to unpack, dig deeper and connect the dots. The theme asserts that to simply know is not enough, rather, we need to endeavor to go beyond the annual acknowledgement of anniversaries (this year of 1984 for example) and Wikipedia facts, and dig deeper in connecting the dots. As we begin to contextualize the way knowledge is formed and presented and ask, “For who?” “When?” “Why?” and “Where?”, we also begin to see what is left out and what stories are missing and how it changes not only history, but current day “knowledge”. In this way, the conference submits to also asking, “What is it that we don’t know?”
Further, by dissecting “knowledge” we allow ourselves to highlight the gap between academia, which is accepted as the ‘legitimate’ knowledge, and the lived knowledge of the community, which is often undermined or ignored. There are often pre-conceived notions about academics and their attitudes, as there are notions about non-academics. These biases prevent the possibility of robust conversations and growing together as an engaged community where knowledge could be translated between the two communities and strengthen how it is applied. This year’s Our Journeys Conference seeks to bridge this gap through the presentations on all the themes to be covered.
What do you hope “Our Journeys” conference attendees leave the conference with?
This conference is about the intersection of activism and academics, action and knowledge. This year’s theme “To Know is Not Enough,” will be unpacked through our three panels, “Constructing Sikh Feminism: What Do We Know?,” “Unheard Voices: What Don’t We Know?,” and “PRAXIS: Knowledge into Action.”
We hope attendees will leave with inspiration, curiosity, and a deep interest in engaging with the world and its gendered issues with the strength and spirit of Sikhi, feminist knowledge and together, the tools necessary for applying a Sikh feminist lens.
We also hope people will leave with a desire to join SAFAR and to support this movement. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of genuine questions around the term “Sikh feminism.” What does it mean? Is it redundant? Why feminism? Let’s discuss that, elaborate that, define that. Through this conference, we’ll dive into an exploration of the intersectionality of Sikhi, feminism and burgeoning discourse on Sikh Feminism, and we invite all to join us on this endeavor.
The Conference seeks to cultivate a spectrum of critical dialogue, engage in collective examining of the status quo and highlight a diverse range of research methodologies throughout the day.
Again, we hope people will leave with a desire to not only support SAFAR, but to join SAFAR. We are completely volunteer-run, and we can use all hands on deck!
If SAFAR could impart one guiding principle to all Sikh women around the world, what would it be?
You are the Infinite Divine manifest… “Man toon jot saroop hai, Apna mool pachan” (SGGS, Ang 441). This is Truth. Things that stand in the way of us living our Truth need to be challenged, molded and removed. We must know who we truly are, know our potential and capacity against what society may assert, challenge systemic oppressions in all forms, challenge injustice around us in our homes and communities, and make the world a better place through our communities and lives. There is no limit to what we can achieve as Guru inspired Sikhs.
SAFAR’s vision is a world where the Sikh Gurus’ principles of egalitarianism and empowerment are realized for all, regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, caste, class and ability. We seek to achieve this by bringing expansive revival, attention, voice and praxis to the feminist values and egalitarian politics inherent within Sikhi.
Kirpa Kaur is a director of the Sikh Feminist Research Institute and a social activist. Kaur is pursuing a master’s degree in educational and curriculum practices at the University of British Columbia and works on issues of community education, knowledge transfer, and program implementation.