Seetal’s Seva: Feminism Through Service

The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.

Seetal Ahluwalia, 17, was taught that women and men are equals in the Sikh religion beginning when she was just a small child. The Guru Granth Sahib says in the scripture: “None may exist without a woman.” 

That’s a nice goal—but gender equality, Ahluwalia says, “is not where it could be or should be.” That’s why she and her friends created Young Khalsa Girls (YKG) when she was just 10 years old—a girl-led youth group based in the greater Washington, D.C., area focused on empowering and impacting women and girls through five core guiding principles based off of the tenets of Sikhism: courage, honesty, unity, humility and seva.

Seva, also known as selfless service, sparked Ahluwalia’s ambition to make a positive impact. After learning that nearly three out of four teen girls in India don’t know what is happening when they first get their period, YKG partnered with Days For Girls to create 52 menstrual hygiene kits for girls and women in countries where menstruation has not been normalized or where access to resources are not available. “We were able to make a first-hand impact,” she told Ms., “by doing something that is giving girls and women something to break the cycle that they’re in their own culture.”

YKG members serve their communities, regardless of whether the community is Sikh or not. The members are empowered every time they selflessly serve, which Ahluwalia knows “is especially important as young Sikh women,” because the religion can feel disempowering to them. “By completing seva as a group, such as donating necessities to mothers of NICU premature babies and spending time with elders at a nursing home,” she said, “we realize that we have the ability to make a difference.”

Ahluwalia described YKG to Ms. as the Sikh version of Girl Scouts. “We’ve done [activities] such as Krav Maga to bring us closer and to improve ourselves physically and mentally,” she said, referring to the Israeli self-defense system. “YKG has given us a chance to do our own thing, but while still helping the community.”  

Sikhism is founded on gender equality. Sikh text declares that women are the key to liberation, Sikh history reveals women as powerful figures like bodyguards and generals and the Sikh code of conduct allows women to be a part of the religion with no limitations. “But it would be foolish to say that we actually lived out the message of equity,” Dr. Jaspreet Kaur Bal, an executive board member of The Sikh Feminist Research Institute, explained to Ms. “Women can’t sing inside The Golden Temple, we can’t serve and we’re not in leadership positions.”

Bal feels that YKG is playing a pivotal role by encouraging young women to serve the community. “We are designed to be leaders,” she said. “If we can raise strong Sikh women, they should be able to turn around and serve the communities they live in.”

YKG’s 12 members have already started a ripple effect in the Sikh community. Last year, YKG launched its second chapter, in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area. Tarina Ahuja, co-teen director of YKG, declared on the website in response that “the motivation to do good can accomplish anything.” 

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Hope Kahn is the print editor-in-chief of The Paw Print, her high school school newspaper in Maryland, and contributed to The Trace’s Since Parkland project.