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LOCATION: Pakistan (Punjab province); India (Punjab state)
RELIGION: Hinduism; Islam; Buddhism; Sikhism; Christianity


Punjabis derive their name from a geographical, historical, and cultural region located in the northwest of the Indian sub-continent. "Punjab" comes from the Persian words panj (five) and ab (river) and means "Land of the Five Rivers." It was the name used for the lands to the east of the Indus River drained by its five tributaries (the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej). Culturally, the Punjab extends beyond this area to include parts of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the foothills of the Himalayas, and the northern fringes of the Thar (Great Indian) Desert in Rājasthān.

The Punjab is an ancient center of culture in the Indian subcontinent. It lay within the bounds of the Harappan civilization, the sophisticated urban culture that flourished in the Indus Valley during the 3rd millennium bc. Harappa, one of the two great cities of this civilization, was located on the Ravi River in what is now Pakistan's Punjab Province. The Punjab has also been one of the great thoroughfares of South Asian history. Aryan-speaking nomadic tribes descended from the mountain passes in the northwest to settle on the plains of the Punjab around 1700 bc. Subsequently, Persians, Greeks, Huns, Turks and Afghans were among the many peoples who entered the Indian subcontinent through the northwestern passes and left their mark on the region. Punjabis, who are of Aryan or Indo-European stock, are the modern descendants of the many peoples that passed through the region.

At times in the past, the Punjab and its population have enjoyed a distinct political identity as well as a cultural one. During the 16th and 17th centuries ad, the region was administered as a province of the Moghul Empire. As recently as the 19th century, much of the area was united under the Sikh state of Ranjit Singh. Britain administered the Punjab as a province of its Indian Empire. However, the redrawing of political boundaries in 1947 saw the Punjab divided between India and Pakistan. Punjabis, despite their common cultural heritage, are now either Indians or Pakistanis by nationality.


Punjabis number about 120 million people, of whom around 90 million live in the Pakistan Punjab and just over 30 million in the Indian state of Punjab. Migrant Punjabis form important communities in Indian cities, such as Delhi, as well as overseas in Southeast and East Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, and North America. Punjab Province in Pakistan includes virtually all of the Punjab (i.e., West Punjab) that was assigned to Pakistan in 1947. The Indian Punjab (East Punjab) State extended from the international border with Pakistan to Delhi. In 1966, however, agitation for a Punjabi-speaking state saw the creation of the present Punjab State. This is less than half the size of the former East Punjab and only 14% of the area of the undivided Punjab. The location of India's Punjab State along the border with Pakistan and only some 40 km (25 mi) from the city of Lahore, gives it great strategic significance.

The Punjab is an agricultural region and Punjabis, whether in India or Pakistan, share the agrarian social structure based on caste that is found throughout South Asia. The Jats, mainly landowners (zamindars) and cultivators, are the largest caste in the Punjab. Other agricultural castes include Rājputs, Arains, Awans, and Gujars. Among the lower-ranked service and artisan castes are the Lohars, Tarkhans, and Chamars.

The homeland of the Punjabis lies on the plains of the upper Indus Valley, covering an area of roughly 270,000 sq km (104,200 sq mi). It stretches from the Salt Ranges in the north to the fringes of the Thar Desert in the southeast. The western margins lie along the base of Pakistan's Sulaiman Range. The Shiwaliks, the outer foothills of the Himalayas, define the Punjab's eastern boundary. The region is a vast alluvial plain, drained by the Indus River and its tributaries. In the northeast, the plain lies at around 300 m (just under 1,000 ft) above sea level, but it declines to under 75 m (250 ft) in elevation along the Indus River in the south. The hills bordering the plain exceed 1,200 m (approximately 4,000 ft) in the Shiwaliks and 1,500 m (approximately 5,000 ft) in the Salt Range.

The Punjab experiences a subtropical climate, with hot summers and cool winters. The mean temperature for June is 34°c (93°f), with daily maximums often rising much higher. The mean maximum temperature for Lahore in June is 46°c (115°f). Dust storms are a common feature of the hot weather. The mean January temperature is 13°c (55°f), although minimums drop close to freezing and hard frosts are common. Rainfall varies from 125 cm (approximately 49 in) in the hills in the northeast to no more than 20 cm (8 in) in the arid southwest. Precipitation has a monsoonal pattern, falling mainly in the summer months. However, weather systems from the northwest bring valuable amounts of rain in the winter.


Punjabi is the name of the language, as well as of the inhabitants, of the Punjab region. Punjabi belongs to the Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. In Pakistan, Punjabi is written using the Perso-Arabic script introduced to the region during the Muslim conquests. Punjabis in India use the Lahnda script, which is related to Devanagari, or the Gurmukhi script in which the Sikh sacred books are written. Punjabi is spoken by two-thirds of the population of Pakistan. In India, Punjabi is the mother tongue of just under 3% of the population. Punjabi was raised to the status of one of India's official languages in 1966.

There are six major dialects of Punjabi localized on the doabs, the areas lying between the rivers, which tend to be cultural and historical as well as geographical regions. Majhii, one of the more important dialects, is spoken in the region of the cities of Lahore and Amritsar. The other important Punjabi dialects are Malwa, Doabi, Powadhi, Dogri, and Bhattiani. To the west, Punjabi gives way to Lahnda, which is also known as Western Punjabi. Urdu, rather than Punjabi, is favored by city dwellers in Pakistan. Seraiki, sometimes called Multani, is a Punjabi dialect (some say it is a separate language) spoken by some 30 million people in Pakistan in the southern Punjab and northern Sindh. Like Punjabi, it is written in the Perso-Arabic script, the Gurmuki script, or the Devanagari script.


Punjabis have a rich mythology and folklore that includes folk tales, songs, ballads, epics, and romances. Much of the folk tradition is an oral one, passed on through the generations by traditional peasant singers, mystics, and wandering gypsies. Many folk tales are sung to the accompaniment of music. There are songs for birth and marriage, love songs, songs of war, and songs glorifying legendary heroes of the past. The Mahiya is a romantic song of the Punjab. Sehra Bandi is a marriage song, and Mehndi songs are sung when henna (a red dye) is being applied to the bride and groom in preparation for marriage. Heera Ranjha and Mirza Sahiban are folk romances known in every household in the Punjab. Wandering Sufiholy men, such as Bullhe Shah, are well known in the Punjab for their poetry and music. They contributed a verse form that became distinctive of Punjabi literature. The mixture of Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim themes in Punjabi folklore mirrors the presence of these different religious traditions in the region.


The religious composition of the Punjabis reflects the Punjab's long and varied history. Early Hinduism took shape in the Punjab, Buddhism flourished in the region, and Muslims wielded political power in the area for nearly six centuries. Sikhism had its origins in the Punjab, which saw the existence of Sikh states that survived until the middle of the 20th century.

Sikhism was a syncretic religion combining the monotheism of Islam with many of the social features of Hinduism. Althought its founder, Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539), preached for a classless society and the equality of women, Sikhs have to all intents and purposes adopted the Hindu caste system and treat women in a similar manner. Born into a Hindu caste in a village in the Punjab (now in Pakistan), Nanak founded a religion that today has most of its adherents in the Punjab. The British annexed the Punjab in the 19th century and introduced Christianity to the region. Thus, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Christianity are all represented among the Punjabi population.

Religious distributions in the Punjab were the result of historical processes at work over many centuries. These patterns were, however, dramatically altered by the mass migrations that accompanied the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947. Hindus and Sikhs fled Pakistan for India, while Muslims traveled in the other direction seeking refuge in Pakistan. Communal strife at this time between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims left as many as 1 million people dead. Today, Punjab Province in Pakistan is 97% Muslim and 2% Christian, with small numbers of Hindus and other groups in the population. Sikhs account for 63.9% of the people in India's Punjab State, while 34.7% are Hindu and roughly 1% each are Muslim and Christian. Small numbers of Buddhists, Jains, and other groups are also present.


Festivals in the Punjab are communal events shared by the entire community, no matter what their religion. Many are seasonal or agricultural festivals. Thus, Basant, when the mustard fields are yellow, marks the end of the cold weather. Punjabis celebrate by wearing yellow clothes, organizing kite-flying, and feasting. Holi is the great spring festival of India and a time for much gaiety, throwing of colored water and colored powder, and visiting friends and relatives. Vaisakh (Baisakh), in April, marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year and also is of special importance for Sikhs, as it commemorates the founding of the Sikh Khalsa. Tij marks the beginning of the rainy season and is a time when girls set up swings, wear new clothes, and sing special songs to mark the occasion. Dasahara, Diwali, and other festivals of the Hindu calendar are celebrated with much enthusiasm. The Sikhs have their "gurpurbs," holidays associated with the lives of the Gurus, while Muslims commemorate the festivals of Muharram, Id-ul-Fitr, and Bakr-Id.


Punjabi rites of passage follow the customs of the community to which a person belongs. Thus, among Muslims, the mullah, or priest, will visit a house within three days of the birth of a male child to recite holy words, including the Call to Prayer, in the baby's ear. The traditional period of impurity after child-birth ends with a fast. The child is named in consultation with the mullah. Males undergo circumcision (sunnat) any time before 12 years of age. Sikh birth rituals are simpler, with the child being taken to the temple for offerings, prayers, and the naming ceremony. The Adi Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs, is opened at random and the parents choose a name that begins with the first letter of the first word on the left-hand page. An important ceremony for the Sikhs, however, is the baptism or initiation into the Sikh religion. This usually takes place in the late teenage years. For Hindus, it is important that a child be born at an auspicious time. A Brahman priest is consulted and, if the time of birth is deemed unfavorable, special ceremonies are held to counter any harmful consequences that might result from this. In the past, a mother remained in isolation for a period of 40 days, though this custom is beginning to disappear. The ritual shaving of the head of the child is usually performed during the first five years of the child's life.

At death, Muslims wrap the corpse in white cloth before taking it to the mosque. White is the color of mourning throughout South Asia. At the mosque, the mullah reads the holy words over the body, which is then buried in the graveyard. Sometimes a stone slab is placed on the grave and each of the mourners places a handful of earth on the grave. This symbolizes the breaking of the link with the deceased. The mullah prays for the dead for three days. Hindus and Sikhs cremate their dead. On the fourth day after cremation, Hindus collect the ashes and charred remains of bones from the funeral pyre and immerse them in the sacred Ganges River, at Haridwar if possible. Sikhs usually immerse the ashes at Kiratpur Sahib, on the River Sutlej.


Forms of greetings and address vary according to circumstances and social context. In rural areas, a man is usually referred to as Bhaiji or Bhai Sahib (Brother) and a woman as Bibiji (Mistress) or Bhainji (Sister). Sikhs are addressed as Sardar (Mr.) or Sardarni (Mrs.). When they meet, Sikhs join the palms of their own hands together and say the phrase, "Sat Sri Akal" ("God is Truth"). Hindus accompany the same gesture with the word "Namaste" ("Greetings"). The common Muslim greeting is "Salaam" ("Peace" or "Greetings"), or "Salaam Alaikum" ("Peace be with you").


Punjabi villages are compact nucleated settlements, with houses clustered around a mosque, temple, or gurdwara. Typically, the houses on the outside edge of the village are constructed so as to present the appearance of a walled settlement with few points of access. The main entrance to a village is through an arched gateway called a darwaza (door or gate), which is also a meeting place for the village. Houses are built close together, often sharing common walls, with rooms built around a central courtyard where animals are tethered and agricultural implements are stored. Most villages are made up of the various communities that are essential to a functioning agricultural economy-landowners, cultivators, artisans, and service castes.

The prosperity brought to the Punjab by the agricultural advances of the Green Revolution in the late 1960s and 1970s is clearly seen in local housing and creature comforts. In the Indian Punjab, houses are now built of brick, village streets are often paved, and every village has electricity. Households commonly have comfortable furniture, ceiling fans for the hot summers, and conveniences like telephones, radios, televisions, and even refrigerators. Many farmers have tractors. Scooters and motorcycles are common, and the more affluent families have cars and jeeps. Although the Pakistani Punjab has not achieved quite the same levels of prosperity, it too is a fertile agricultural region, and Punjabis enjoy some of the highest standards of living in Pakistan. However, being of a considerably larger size, there are areas lacking the transportation infrastructure and amenities that characterize the rest of the province.


Caste, or jati, is the most important social grouping among Punjabis, defining social relations, marriage pools, and often occupation. Castes exist even among Muslims and Sikhs, whose religions specifically deny the legitimacy of the caste system. Castes are divided into numerous gots or clans, which are exogamous social units. One cannot marry into the gots of any of one's four grandparents. Among Muslims, castes are known as qaums or zats, but at the village level it is the biradari, or patrilineage, that is the more significant social unit. All males who can trace their lineage to a common ancestor belong to the same biradari, and all members of the biradari are regarded as kin. Members of a biradari often put up a united front in village affairs and disputes, for they share a sense of collective honor and identity.

The family is the primary unit of Punjabi society. The joint family dominates, with sons and their wives and children, along with any unmarried offspring, living in the household of the parents. The men have the responsibility of overseeing the agricultural or business activities of the family. Women, under the direction of the mother-in-law or senior wife, see to the running of the household, food preparation, and the care and raising of children. Among peasant cultivators, women as well as men participate in agricultural activities. Both men and women from laboring castes work for hire, as agricultural workers or at other manual labor.

Marriage and the bearing of children are expected of women in Punjabi society. Marriages are arranged by the parents of the boy and girl, though each community follows its own marriage rituals and customs. Among Muslims, for instance, the best match is considered to be a marriage between first cousins. The months of Ramadan and Muharram are avoided as marriage dates, the former being a month of fasting and the latter being a period of ritual mourning. The Muslim marriage ceremony is termed the Nikah ceremony. The girl is given a dowry, which explicitly remains her property. Hindu Punjabis seek marriage partners according to the limitations of caste endogamy and clan exogamy. Dowry is an important factor in negotiating a Hindu marriage. Hindu rituals include the traditional journey of the barāt (marriage party) to the bride's house, the garlanding of the bride and groom, and the ritual walking around the sacred fire. Sikhs, on the other hand, do not give or take dowries and solemnize their marriages before the Granth, their sacred book. In all communities, however, residence is patrilocal-the new bride moves into the home of her husband's family.

Different Punjabi communities have different customs regarding divorce and remarriage. Although Islam has provisions for a man to divorce his wife, in rural society divorce is intensely disapproved of and there are strong social pressures against it. Nor do Muslims approve of widow remarriage. Sikhs do not permit divorce, but do allow widow remarriage. Widow remarriage is not common among Hindus, although Jats permit the union between a widow and the younger brother of her husband. Divorce is not customary among Hindus, although there are ways in which marriages can be informally brought to an end.


The standard dress in the rural Punjab is the kurta, tahmat, or pyjama, and turban. The kurta is a long shirt or tunic that hangs down to the thighs. The tahmat is a long piece of cloth that is wrapped around the waist and legs like a kilt. The pyjama, from which the English word "pajamas" is derived, is a pair of loose-fitting trousers. Turbans are worn in different styles in different localities and by different communities. Among cultivators, the turban is a relatively short piece of cloth, perhaps 1 m (3 ft) in length, wrapped loosely around the head. The formal Punjabi turban worn by men of social standing is much longer, with one end starched and sticking up like a fan. The Sikhs favor the peaked turban found around Patiala. Leather shoes, which are locally made, complete the outfit. During the winter a sweater, woolen jacket, or blanket is added. Men wear rings and sometimes earrings.

Women wear the salwar (baggy pants drawn in at the ankles) and kamiz (tunic), along with the dupatta (scarf). Sometimes a ghaghra, a long skirt dating back to Mughal times, replaces the salwar. Ornaments decorate the hair, rings or jewels are worn in the nose, and earrings, necklaces, and bangles are popular.

In urban areas, traditional dress is giving way to modern styles. Jackets, suits, and ties may be worn, with women wearing saris, dresses, skirts, and even jeans.


The basic diet of Punjabis consists of cereals (wheat, maize, or millets), vegetables, pulses, and milk products. Goat meat is eaten, but this tends to be consumed on special occasions, such as weddings or other celebrations. A typical meal consists of flat bread (rotī) made from wheat, a cup of lentils or other pulses (dal), and hot tea or buttermilk. In winter, the bread is made of maize, and vegetables, such as mustard greens (sag), may be added. Dal and sag are prepared in a similar way. Sliced or chopped garlic and onion are fried in butter, along with chilies, cloves, black pepper, and ginger. The vegetables or pulses are added and the food cooked, sometimes for several hours, until it is tender. No utensils are used because the food is eaten with the fingers. Only the right hand is used, with a piece of rotī torn off to scoop up dal or the vegetable and place it in the mouth. Tea, which is drunk in generous quantities at all times of the day, is made with half water and half milk and sweetened with three or four teaspoons of sugar. Fish, chicken, and eggs are rarely eaten.


Punjabis have made great strides in education in recent years, although there is still room for improvement, especially in Pakistan. Assisted by organizations, such as the World Bank, Punjab Province has some 58% (2005 estimate) of the population under 10 years of age attending school, but less than 25% completed high school and only some 3% of this population attended university. The literacy rate in the population over 10 years of age in the Pakistan Punjab was 57% (2005 estimate). However, this varied from 60% among urban males to only 25% among females in rural areas. This is significant as some two-thirds of Punjab's population live in rural areas. 2001 figures for the Indian State of Punjab are 69.7% overall-75.2% for urban males and 57.7% for rural females.

Both Punjabs have a tradition of education, with many institutions of higher learning. The University of the Punjab and the University of Engineering and Technology are located in Lahore in Pakistan. Among the institutions of higher learning in the Indian Punjab are Punjab University in Chandigarh, Punjabi University in Patialia, and Guru Nanak University in Amritsar.


Though Punjabis never developed any classical traditions of dance, they are known for several forms of folk dance. These are usually performed at religious fairs and festivals or at harvest time. The most famous is the Bhangra, which is identified with the Vaisakh festival. Today, it may be performed at marriages, on the occasion of the birth of a son, or at similar events. Young men of the village, dressed in brightly colored clothes, gather in a circle around a drummer who beats out the rhythm of the dance. Moving around the drummer, slowly at first, then faster as the tempo of the drum quickens, they dance and sing with great abandon. The Giddha is a dance for women and girls. Jhumar, Sammi, Luddi, and the sword dance are all popular folk dances of the Punjab.

In addition to the music associated with folk culture (songs, epics, and dances), Punjabis share in the traditions of Sikh sacred music and Sufimysticism. The religious compositions of the Sikh Gurus combine aspects of classical Indian music with popular Punjabi folk tunes. Among the mystics and holy men who wandered India spreading the Islamic faith were poets who composed in the language of the region and set their works to music. Their contributions, along with the devotional songs of the Hindus and Sikhs, became part of the Punjabi regional musical tradition. More formal Muslim music forms, such as the qawwali and ghazal, continue to be popular in the region today.

Folk epics and romances, the Sikh sacred literature, and the poetic compositions of the Sufis are all part of a literary tradition that continues today. Modern Punjabi literature has its beginning in the mid-19th century, with writers like Charan Singh and Vir Singh. Noted modern writers include Amrita Pritam, Khushwant Singh, Harcharan Singh, and I. C. Nanda.


Most Punjabis are agriculturalists. With its development as a center of modern commercial agriculture, the Punjab (both Indian and Pakistani) is one of the most important agricultural regions of South Asia. However, the Punjab also has a proud martial tradition that extends back several centuries and continues in modern times. Between the two world wars, Sikhs made up 20% of the British Indian Army, though they accounted for only 2% of the Indian population. This tradition of military service continues today, with Sikhs making up an unusually high proportion of the Indian armed forces. In Pakistan, too, Punjabis-especially Jats and Rājputs-have a distinguished tradition of military service.


Games that are popular with children include hide-and-seek, kite-flying, and Indian cricket (gulli-danda), a stick-game played by boys. Kabaddi, a team wrestling game, is played by boys and men. Wrestling, partridge- and cock-fighting, pigeon-flying, and gambling are favorite pastimes of Punjabi men.

Modern sports, such as soccer, cricket, and field hockey, are widely played and watched in the Punjab. Punjab State in India has a government department to organize and promote sports and athletics, and the National Institute of Sports is located at Patiala. Punjabis are well represented in Indian national sports teams. In Pakistan, too, Punjabis have a strong presence on the country's national sports and athletics teams.


In the past, Punjabis derived much of their entertainment and recreation from their traditional sports and games, from religious fairs and festivals, and from their rich tradition of folklore and folk culture. They had their songs, romantic epics, folk dances, and castes of traveling entertainers such as the Mirasi. This has changed in recent times with the advent of radio, television, and movies. Film music is popular and the Indian Punjab even has a small film industry producing feature films in Punjabi.


Contemporary folk arts in the Punjab represent traditions that may extend back several thousand years. Village potters make clay toys that differ little from figurines recovered from Harappan archeological sites. Peasant women follow a tradition of painting intricate designs on the mud walls of their houses for festival days. The Punjab is noted for its elaborate embroidery work. Local crafts include woodwork, metalwork, and basketry.


Despite the Punjab's overall prosperity, problems exist, ranging from alcoholism in rural areas to unemployment in the cities. Illiteracy is still high in villages, especially among women. Punjabis who have migrated from rural areas to cities in search of work form an urban underclass that are cut off from the ties and support system of their families and village communities. The cities are full of high school and university graduates who lack the technical training for success in the modern economy. If they are fortunate enough to obtain employment, it tends to be in low-level clerical jobs. The Indian Punjab has also been faced with civil unrest and disruptions caused by the confrontation between Sikh extremists and the central government over the last several decades. The 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence of the Khalistan movement in the Indian Punjab to create "The Land of the Pure" as an independent Sikh state in all Punjabi-speaking areas, which include Indian Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and some other Punjabi speaking parts of states like Gujarat and Rājasthān. The 1980s saw militants undertake an insurgency against the government of India. However, under the Constitution of India, secessionism is forbidden, and the Indian government sent in security forces to counter the insurgency. The Indian Army's Operation Blue Star, involving an attack on the Sikh's holy shrine at Amritsar, where some militants had taken refuge, led ultimately to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 and the subsequent indiscriminate killings of Sikhs by Hindus throughout India. Various rebel groups in favor of Khalistan fought an insurgency against the government of India in the early 1990s, an insurgency that was suppressed by Indian security forces. Human rights groups have reported numerous atrocities, especially against Sikh women, carried out by the Indian security forces at this time.

Punjabis in Pakistan are subject to the chronic political instability that affects the state. Punjabis, who are the most populous group in the state, are viewed by other peoples as dominating the state of Pakistan, and Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto's chief protagonist until her assassination in December 2007, has had his power base in the Punjab. The radicalism associated with militant Islam and Pakistan's (apparently reluctant) involvement in the West's War on Terror is a cause of social problems, as is sectarian conflict and both internal and external disputes over water resources. The dispute with Sindh Province over the use of the waters of the Indus River and its tributaries extends back to the middle of the 19th century, but Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority's (WAPDA) proposed plan known as Vision-2025 will essentially give Punjab Province control of the Indus' waters, extremely important in a country irrigated agriculture is the dominant economic activity.

When the Punjab was partitioned between India and Pakistan in 1947, a bone of contention remained which country had the right to use the waters of the Indus River and its tributaries. This issue was finally resolved by the Indus Waters Treaty, signed between the two countries in 1960. The Treaty provided that the waters of the contested rivers, the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej would be for the exclusive use of India. However, India would have to make a one-time financial payment to Pakistan as compensation for the loss of water from the rivers in India. The countries also agreed to exchange data and co-operate in matters related to the treaty, creating the Permanent Indus Commission, with a commissioner appointed by each country.

In 1958 the government of India started construction on what came to be called the Indira Gandhi Canal, which carried water from the Harike Barrage, a few kilometers below the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas rivers in Punjab state into desert areas of Rājasthān. While the Canal has certainly succeeded in dramatically changing the face of agriculture in Rājasthān, some see this as stealing water from the water-short Punjab, and this was a contributing factor to the Punjab's resistance to the central government.


The situation facing women in the Punjab tends to vary according to which (i.e. Pakistani or Indian) Punjab they inhabit, although in both locales they are accorded inferior status. In the Indian Punjab, for instance, where Hinduism is well-entrenched, women face all the problems of Hindu society-arranged marriages, child marriages (these still occur even though they are illegal according to both national and state law), payment of dowries, and abuse and even deaths arising from dowry disputes. In 2001 Punjab had a child sex ratio (for 0-6 years) of 874 girls for 1,000 boys, showing the impact of sex selective abortion despite the passage of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (Prohibition of Sex Selection) (PCPNDT) Act by the government of India in 2003. This is a trend for Hindu India, with the 2001 Census showing a sex ratio of 933 women for 1,000 males. One social consequence of this is the sale of young girls from poor countries, such as Nepal, or states, such as West Bengal or Assam, to wealthy peasants as wives due to the lack of girls of marriageable age in the Punjab. This same situation applies to the Sikhs, who tend to mirror Hindu attitudes towards women, despite the protestations of freedom and equality their religion supposedly grants women. The situation regarding female feticide among Sikhs became so bad that five Head Priests of the "Akal Takht," the highest seat of Sikh religious authority in the Golden Temple at Amritsar, issued a Hukumnama (edict) in April 2001 preaching excommunication of those involved in this practice.

Women face a serious law and order situation in the Indian Punjab, with numerous cases of murder, rape, and attempted rape recorded. Kidnapping and suicides are common, with many cases of dowry deaths reported and still more going unreported. With revenge as their sole motive, a growing number of women in Punjab are landing themselves on the wrong side of law. Police officials say that a rise in the number of cases of well-to-do women getting entangled in murders, attempts to murder, and even in assisting rapes reveals a new trend in the state.

Detriments, such as lack of inheritance and economic discrimination stemming from the patriarchal social systems, exist on both sides of the border, but women in West Punjab suffer from the general place of women in Muslim society. Under Muslim law, a man can have up to four wives, and divorce is relatively easy for him to obtain. High-class women are required to maintain purdah, and village women commonly wear the burqa. Women (and men, too) are subject to "honor killings" and, despite passage of the Women's Protection bill of 2006, live under Muslim law and are sentenced to the legal penalties set out in the1979 Hudud Ordinance. It is not uncommon for women to be subjected to physical abuse by their husbands and other male members of the family.

Societal norms, poverty, illiteracy, the dominance of a patriarchal society, and the constraints of Hindu or Muslim religious practices influence all but the most affluent women in the Punjab.


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—by D. O. Lodrick