We have documented a number of examples in the past exposing Sikhism’s hypocrisy in living up to the claim of equality between the sexes.
In this paper, we intend to further expose the hypocrisy of equality by examining a specific ritual known as laavan carried out during the matrimonial ceremony of Anand Karaj.
Laavan involves, among other things, the bride holding on to the groom’s scarf. “The ceremony is known as Pallae Di Rasam. The father of bride gives in her hand one side of the scarf of the groom. Holding this scarf in her hand, she later follows [behind] him during the main ceremony,”  submissively and obediently as they perform circumambulation of their “divine” scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Before lambasting us for this particular assertion, we wish to bring to the attention of Sikhs similar objections and queries raised by some of their fellow faithful  over the legitimacy of this ritual vis-á-vis the claim of egalitarianism.
For example, Anju Kaur enquired in a research journal:
Similarly, Bhupinder Singh Mahal observes how some Sikh “bigots pick and choose” what they deem to be non-egalitarian acts “while all the time ignoring an obvious gender discriminatory practice inherent in Anand Karaj, the Sikh wedding ceremony. For example, during lavan [four wedding hymns] it is the bride who is made to walk behind the groom while circling around the Sri Guru Granth Sahib”.  (bold ours)
The point being made is potent and one that cannot be summarily dismissed as trivial or unjustified faultfinding. Putting aside for the moment the origin of this ritual, if men and women are supposed to be equal, why then is the groom given the role of leading the way?
As a little girl, I never understood why, if Sikh men and women are supposed to be equal, does a Sikh bride walk behind the groom during matrimonial circumambulations (laavan).
The Gurus Lead the Way
Given that the couple circumambulate SGGS four times, would it not be closer to equality if, hypothetically speaking, the first two rounds were led by the groom and the last two led by the bride, or vice-versa? Alternatively, how about if the bride and groom were to make these circuits side-by-side?
If, on the other hand, this ritual does indeed find its origin with any of the Gurus, then it would certainly be deemed an act of heresy for any Sikh to suggest, let alone attempt, amending or rejecting it altogether. In this case, Sikhs would be obliged to issue an apologetic that accounts for two consequential objections:
- How this seemingly non-egalitarian act of laavan can be reconciled with the principle of equality?
- And how such a ritual could have been instantiated by a Guru who was supposed to be both a champion of women’s rights and the best practitioner of this principle?
Furthermore, this potential catch-22 seems to be an actual one when one examines the evidences since it appears that this ritual of inequality was indeed put into practice by a Guru:
Later Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru of the Sikhs, elaborated the idea by composing four hymns which he named ‘Lava’ and called upon his followers to sing them on the occasion of marriage. The word ‘Lava’ literally means ‘to unite’. 
According to Duggal:
The Guru appreciated his devotee’s predicament and without asking for the Janam Patris or minding caste or any other considerations had the wedding performed in accompaniment of the recitation from Anand Saheb, a Sikh scripture.
It was later formalised by Guru Ram Das who “instead of the seven Hindu perambulations reduced the ceremonial to four rounds”. 
This act was later “formally legalised by the British Government in 1909 by passing the Anand Karaj Act”. 
Dr Talwar insists:
And so the formal procedures for this ceremony were incorporated into the Rehat Maryada compiled in the first half of the 20th century:
Hence, you find this mentioned by a number of Sikh scholars and academics. The Sikh Encyclopedia elaborates on the whole process of Anand Karaj until it comes to state:
Guru Nanak … wrote Mool Mantar on a paper, placed it on a low stool, and performed Lavan – went around it four times, followed by the girl. – Dr Kulwant Singh Khokhar
It is interesting to note that even the feminist scholar, Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh who wrote The Birth of the Khalsa: A Feminist Re-memory of Sikh Identity, does not dispute this procedure, but acknowledges it. She and her co-author describe how “the bride’s father unites the bride and groom with a saffron-colored scarf. He places one end of the scarf in the groom’s hands, passes it over the groom’s shoulder, and places the other end in the bride’s hand”. With the scarf in the bride’s hand “the couple reverentially circle the Guru Granth in a clockwise direction”.  Although she conveniently overlooks the crucial detail of who leads who, it is difficult to see how the scarf could remain “over the groom’s shoulder” during circumambulation if the groom was behind the bride.
This detail is also ignored in an article co-authored by Prof Arvinder Singh and Dr Jagroop Kaur, which, ironically, examines “[t]he Status of Woman in Sikhism with Special Reference to Lavan”. After making the patently false assertion that “the woman is [sic] source of all evil” in Islam, the authors, while acknowledging that “the bride and groom go round four times around Sri Guru Granth Sahib”, remain silent over the crucial issue of who leads who despite recognising the Pallae Di Rasam:
In spite of these obfuscations, however, Dr Kulwant Singh Khokhar reveals that the origin of laavan, which includes the bride having to submissively follow behind her husband, actually lay with none other than Guru Nanak himself:
Since the origin of the Sikh matrimonial ceremony was instantiated by the Gurus, the two aforementioned questions demand an answer from those Sikhs who believe the principle of equality to be immutable, divinely revealed and absolute in its actualisation:
- How can this seemingly non-egalitarian ritual be reconciled with the principle of equality?
- How could this ritual have been instantiated by a Guru who was supposed to be both a champion of women’s rights and the best practitioner of this principle?
If a reconciliation cannot be achieved, then this is just another example of Sikhism having failed to defend its blind espousal of equality between the sexes. Such a failure should raise alarm bells for those who are sincere towards the truth. It would be another clear indication that Sikhism cannot be revealed of God since a benevolent Creator would not demand His servants to live up to standards and conditions that are impossible to achieve.
We look forward to the answers from any keen and dedicated Sikh apologist.
 S.S. Kapoor (1996), Ceremonies of Bliss: Anand Karaj (The Sikh Marriage Ceremony), Birth of a Child, Book 2 of Sikh Ceremony Series, (Hemkunt Press, New Delhi), p.55.
 The following question was posted on a Sikh forum by a one GSingh:
– Sikhnet.com, Anand Karaj Lavan Phere, 10 Nov. 2010 1:41pm
 A. Kaur (2002), Sikh Matrimonial Circumambulations (Laavan), (Understanding Sikhism – The Research Journal, 4(2), July-Dec 2002).
 B.S. Mahal (2001), Changing Perceptions about Rituals & Conventions, (The Sikh Review, Vol. 49:10 October 2001 No: 574).
 G.S. Sidhu (1997), Sikh Marriage Cermony [sic], (Endorphin Ltd.), p.3.
 K.S. Duggal (2008), The Sanctity of Anand Karaj, (Vol. 56:5 MAY 2008 No. 653), p.29.
 G.S. Sidhu, op. cit., p.3.
 K.S. Talwar (2005), The Anand Marriage Act, Punjab Past and Present, (National Archives, New Delhi, 2(2), Oct 1968, 400-410), pp.5-6.
 The Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions, Article XVIII, (SGPC.net, CHAPTER XI).
 The Sikh Encyclopedia (Date: Unknown), Anand Karaj.
SikhiWiki has the same entry and explanation: www.sikhiwiki.org/Anand_Karaj.
 N-G. K. Singh, M. Palmer (2009), Sikhism World Religions, (Infobase Publishing, NY), pp.92-3.
 J. Kaur, A. Singh (2011), The Status of Woman in Sikhism with Special Reference to Lavan, (Institute of Sikh Studies; Abstracts of Sikh Studies, July-Sept 2011 / 543 (Vol XIII, Issue 3); accessed: 14 Jan 2012).
 K. S. Khokhar (2005), Anand Marriage – Development and History, (Global Sikh Studies), pp.5-6.