Being the only Sikh – apart from my brother – in a school where the majority of pupils are Christian can be an interesting experience sometimes, as a lot of students are intrigued by the beliefs that Sikhs uphold and want to learn more.
A fascinating incident occurred when I was standing in the lunch queue one day. A group of girls were standing behind me chatting enthusiastically about something. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my hair and heard, “It’s so long and soft!” I couldn’t resist turning around any longer to see what the fuss was all about and found myself gazing at some awestruck Sixth Form girls.
Not ones to beat around the bush, they started questioning me at once.
“Have you ever cut your hair?”
“Have you ever been to the hairdressers?”
When the answer was no to both of them (I haven’t personally had the need to go to a hairdressers, so haven’t been to one), their faces lit up with awe.
“Hair is a gift from God, so why should anyone give it away by cutting it? We (Sikhs) live the way that God made humans and never cut our hair. For us, it is a symbol of love for God and respect for everything that God has given us.”
They found this really interesting. They had never thought about their hair in this light and probably just thought of their hair as a fashion accessory.
It’s not just because of my long, uncut hair that I am recognised as a Sikh. I have never been shy of the fact I am a Sikh, and from the age of seven, I was always backing up my opinions with examples of what the Gurus have said.
One of my teachers described my seven year old self as ‘proud to be a Sikh’!
It’s pleasing to see that Sikhs are beginning to get understood, especially in our school, when not many people have even heard of the religion. However, outside the walls of our school, it’s not the same story.
Sikhs have a unique physical appearance and after the devastating events of 9/11, a turban is sometimes associated with Osama bin Laden and his followers, in the minds of some.
There is a history of hate crimes that have been committed post 9/11, many mistaking Sikhs, because of the turban, with followers of Laden.
For example, the attack on the gurdwara in Wisconsin, USA, where six Sikhs were killed as a result of a gunman with white supremacist links.
That wasn’t the only incident. Sikh-Americans have reported that they are often being targeted since 9/11 because of confusion with Muslims.
It’s ironic that Guru Gobind Singh created the Five K’s so that Sikhs can be uniquely identified and now, because of one terrorist incident by another group in another land, we are becoming confused with other religions.
As the youngest world religion, Sikhism is often perceived as being a branch of, or associated with more widely known religions like Hinduism and Islam.
This has only made me more determined to make Sikhism as well-known and as correctly as possible. The prejudice that some people may have towards Sikhs, can only be eliminated by knowledge — accurate knowledge.
Personally, my experiences have largely been positive of being a Sikh. However, these negative attacks have only made me more determined to get Sikhi recognized as much as possible in our school and made me stronger in what I believe in.
In a world that is becoming increasingly image-obsessed, we Sikhs may look different, but that is because of our beliefs, we are not any different otherwise.
Take Balpreet Kaur as an example. Not too long ago, she was taunted by a blogger, because she, being a Sikh, did not shave or cut her hair. The man was so astonished by the fact that women have hair on their bodies and faces that he posted her photo online and waited for the abuse to flood in.
What happened next was not expected as Balpreet Kaur gave a lovely and dignified response: ‘Yes, I’m a Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that … I look different than most women. However, Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will.’
And then something even better happened: the man who had been rude through ignorance, publicly recanted. He wrote:
“I’ve read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant.’
Maybe, the next time we are walking down the street, they will think twice before judging …
[Ruhi is a Grade Eight student currently living and studying in Chester, England. She is part of the editorial team for her school magazine and holds an academic scholarship to her school.]