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MICROPOLIS: Sikh Men & the Meaning of Turbans

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In this latest episode of Micropolis, we examine the age-old persecution of Sikhs, from India to post-9/11 America. Why do Sikhs such as actor Waris Ahluwalia (Inside Man, The Darjeeling Limited) identify with the racial history of African Americans?

And why, despite persecution and name-calling, do Sikh men continue to wear turbans?

The answer can partly be found in the video below, which takes place at the dastaar bandi, or turban-tying ceremony, of Saihajdeep Singh, a 16-year-old in Norwalk, Conn. 

"It's like the introduction into manhood in our religion," said Saihajdeep, who chose a bright blue cloth for his inaugural turban.

His parents sat nearby, along with numerous elders.

"They expect me to be a little more mature around the house, take care of my younger sisters, and help around the house with chores, and other things like setting the table and taking out the trash," he said.

Listen to the full Micropolis episode above.

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Comments [2]

Arun

Hi D Singh,
thanks for the nice words. It was a rewarding story to work on. And yes, you're right, it's debatable whether someone has a "choice" whether or not to wear a turban, given that it's religiously mandated. However, I'd argue that it is, not just in relative terms to one's skin color, but in this society as compared to other societies. To my mind there are not severe social consequences for American Sikhs who opt not to wear a turban. And if there are, perhaps that's a story for the future. Best, Arun

Sep. 12 2013 06:04 PM
D Singh from NYC

Arun, thank you for taking the time and using your platform to give coverage to stories of Sikh-Americans, particularly as we mourn the attacks of 9/11. As a Sikh born and raised in the US, I have struggled with the lack of awareness around Sikhism both before and after the attacks. As this Stanford/SALDEF study shows http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/09/10/more-than-two-thirds-of-americans-cannot-identify-sikhs-by-their-turbans-stanford/ there is still much work to be done. I appreciate your insight in highlighting Waris' role in 'Inside Man' and in drawing parallels between the Sikh and African-American experience.
I was perplexed by the presentation of wearing a turban as 'a choice.' Your question of 'what keeps a turban going?' is a good one. But choice is a charged word, given that a turban is religiously mandated. More broadly, individuals may choose their religious expression (to wear a turban, or a cross, or a mauli, or a hijab, or a kippah), but the real question is are people free to make that choice? Or is society making that choice for individuals? So as a Sikh, is it American for me to blend in, in a country Jefferson described as having religious protection for "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and the Infidel of every denomination"?
Again, thank you for running the story. I welcome any further dialogue on the Sikh-American experience.

Sep. 12 2013 01:13 PM

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