Enacting the Equality of Men and Women written into the Sikh scriptures - Trishna Singh
[There are many Sikh communities, each with a distinct culture. The largest community in Edinburgh is the Bhatra Sikh community] The culture of our community was that very traditional rural village lifestyle, where the women were at home, and the men were the breadwinners. I think for a lot of [the early Sikh settlers in Edinburgh], the thinking was that we are going to go back to India, and we want to take back Indians, we don’t want to take back white, western people. I’ve always [thought] we can’t have just been born to cook and sew and wash dishes… [but] that’s what we were taught! My education was cut short, I was 13 when I had to leave school. My thirst for knowledge [continued], I started reading the scriptures, and trying to understand [gender roles] from the religious aspect.
In 1984, I had been married for 10 years and I had two sons, and my younger son was knocked down in a road accident. He was in a coma for a week, and then he passed away. At that time I was 2 months pregnant… so it was a huge trauma. My health visitor and doctor would come and say “maybe you should get a bereavement counsellor”. But they didn’t understand the culture of our community: there was no concept of child-minders, nurseries, all these things were for white people, we didn’t need that. [Trishna agreed to join a befriending service for young families. A social work student wrote her dissertation on the needs of Sikh women in Leith, which was used as a funding application to the City Council. Sikh Sanjog was founded in 1989]. [When I was first asked to work at Sikh Sanjog] I said I’ve never worked… and people will be talking about me, nobody worked in offices! [But I thought] about my daughters, and other people’s daughters. If we don’t do anything for ourselves, nobody else is going to do it for us! So I started work part-time in 1991… We started off just doing small leisure things, and then gradually we moved into employment and training, and health and wellbeing, and working in the schools, delivering cultural awareness.
We weren’t doing anything wrong, because in the Sikh scriptures women have equality, and they’ve had equality since the 15th Century - but nobody ever told us about it. So now I’m telling everybody! And that’s all we were doing, we were just telling the women that we’re not going against anything: we love our culture, I’m so proud to be a Sikh woman. I was the first Sikh woman from the Bhatra community in Edinburgh to work in an office… [and] in 2014, I was the first Sikh woman in Scotland to be awarded an OBE. [Sikh Sanjog] has empowered and inspired women… it’s unlocked their potential. It’s given them skills and confidence - but also to be able to acknowledge themselves as women, that they have a right to life in society, the way they choose.