This is me, Himmatpreet Nguyen Kaur, in my turban. It’s not perfectly wrapped because I am still learning to wrap it but it’s pretty good. It gets a little better every day.
The turban gets a lot of stares. Lots and lots of stares. The stares only bother me because stares are really just unasked questions. GO AHEAD PEOPLE! Ask the questions! I’ll answer them.
When I do get questions, one of the most common questions is “Why do you wear a turban?”
The answer is a complicated one. I will do my best to answer it below.
What the books say:
According to the Rehat Marayada, our Code of Conduct (of which there are several versions), a Sikh should wear turban and kacchera. Though our identity includes 5 Ks that we should wear – kacchera, kara, khanga, kirpan and kesh, not all Rehat Marayada versions agree on what we are to wear. Most of the versions of Rehat Marayada that I have seen also say that a Sikh woman may or may not wear turban. The Rehat Marayada is a document written by Sikh leaders in order to attempt to establish standards for Sikh conduct. Often one will find that Punjabi Sikh women do not wear turban while white and black Sikh women do.
However, when Guru Gobind Singh Ji created the Khalsa, he also gave Sikhs the 5 Ks which comprise our identity, which includes a turban to cover and protect our unshorn hair (kesh). Though there is not one way to wrap a turban and not every person who wears a turban is a Sikh, it is a very important part of our identity.
One of the primary principles of Sikhi is the equality of men and women. I do not believe that Waheguru would expect different from sons than daughters. So, this is part of the reason I wear a turban.
Why identity is important:
When I first decided that I would convert to Sikhi, I carefully considered whether I would become visibly a Sikh. I had a lot of concerns. Oh, who am I kidding? I had fears.
Not long ago five Sikh men and a Sikh woman were gunned down at a gurdwara in Wisconsin by a hateful man who mistook them for Muslims. Just recently, a Sikh professor was badly beaten by a group of people after dropping his wife at home after an evening walk. Since 9/11 Sikhs have been exposed to increased levels of hatred and violence in the west because they are often mistaken for Muslim. In a ridiculous slam at my Muslim brothers and sisters (most of whom like all of us desire quiet, peaceful lives where we can take care of our families), those that would hate and commit violence also tend to mistake Muslims for terrorists. I worried what I would do if I was mistaken for a terrorist?
Sikhs have also been the subject of hatred and slaughter in the lands where Sikhi originated. In 1984, in fact, our most important site – the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, India, was attacked by the Indian army at the direction of Indira Ghandi, to capture and remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. In the poorly planned and executed attack, which began on one of our holiest days, hundreds of Sikhs were killed. On October 31st of that same year, Indira Ghandi was killed by two bodyguards, both Sikhs, as punishment for the attack on the Harmandir Sahib. For the next five days, Sikhs in Delhi, the Punjab and Haryana were slaughtered in vicious anti-Sikh violence. Where before Sikhs lived side by side with their neighbours peacefully, October and November 1984 saw neighbours rise up against the Sikhs, ending in a tidal wave of blood and devastation. Tens of thousands were killed before the army and police moved in to bring an end to the violence. What would I do if my turban and also being in the wrong place at the wrong time meant death simply because of my identity?
Though the Gurus have died for their identities, for their beliefs and to protect others;
Though they gave up their lives rather than converting faiths, to save others from forced conversion, and to preserve the Sikh way;
Though many thousands of Sikhs since the time of the Gurus have also given their lives;
Though we are taught to be unafraid, and to fight for others even if that fight cannot be won;
I was afraid.
I was afraid until my best friend, Prithipal, a good man just trying to be a good Sikh and earn an honest living, was assaulted for the turban he wears on his head. It was when I got that call, just a week after my conversion to Sikhi and I heard his voice that my fear disappeared and the importance of our identity became clear.
Not wearing a turban because I was afraid of violence directed at me is to insult all those who gave their lives before, fighting against hate, oppression and injustice. Not wearing a turban because I was afraid of violence directed at me is to hide from hate, which isn’t the solution. Not wearing a turban because I was afraid of violence directed at me is to water down a core belief that Sikhs share – that we must be unafraid, prepared and willing to give our lives for others. Others include my Sikh brothers and sisters, my Singh and Kaur family, as well as my brothers and sisters of all other faiths.
My turban is my crown. It identifies me as a Sikh to other Sikhs and to everyone else. It is a sign that I will not hide from hate but will instead stand up to it. It is a sign of respect to Sikh heritage and all those who came before. It is a reminder of my love for my brothers and sisters, knowing that I am not afraid, if necessary, to give up my life for them. It is a sign of solidarity. It is an opportunity for discussion over hate. It is a sign of my evolving relationship with Waheguru, and a symbol of my faith.
My turban is as much a part of me as my own breath and the heart that beats inside of me. It may be imperfect but it is improving slowly every day, like the rest of me. It is who I am.