Sikh Politics, Gender, and Narrative Identity

38 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 8 Jun 2010

Natasha Behl

Occidental College


This essay explains the contradiction shared by many Sikhs who vehemently oppose sexism as antithetical to Sikhism, but simultaneously engage in discrimination against women. What makes the contradiction even more interesting is the fact that it is not simply upheld by men, but most Sikh women maintain that Sikhism has eliminated sexism even though gender-based discrimination is a common, everyday lived experience. As a result, the essay asks: how do ordinary Sikhs maintain a belief in gender equality while also participating in discriminatory practices against women? To make sense of this contradiction, I rely on the Margaret Somers' notion of narrative identity. According to Somers (1994), it is through narrativity that we come to know, understand, and make sense of the social world, and it is through narrativity that we constitute our social identities. By adopting Somer's notion of narrative identity I am able to explain the uneasy way in which individuals understand themselves through and act based on a Sikh public narrative of gender equality, which does not map neatly onto ontological narratives that give rise to gender-based discriminatory practices. The goal of the analysis is to make sense of the apparent contradiction espoused by so many Sikhs by reading their interview responses through the interplay of two types of narratives: a Sikh public narrative and individual ontological narratives.

Suggested Citation

Behl, Natasha, Sikh Politics, Gender, and Narrative Identity. Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper . Available at SSRN:

Natasha Behl (Contact Author)

Occidental College ( email )

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