A note of hope in Jersey

turban_tying.gifCould the community’s recent rallying in response to hate crimes have similar results (though in smaller proportions) as was seen after Operation Bluestar of people re-committing to their faith?

Many Sikhs today, unfortunately, cut their hair at some time during their adolescence. This is seen amongst Sikhs who are isolated in communities that have little or no exposure to Sikhs (or sometimes anything outside of that particular community) but also in communities with large numbers of Sikhs.

It seems that at least in New Jersey, the increasing number of Sikhs along with recent media exposure is alleviating at least one of the reasons that kids decide not to keep the Sikh roop.

Despite the recent brutal harassment of a high schooler in New Jersey which made international (Indian) news, some Sikhs in Jersey feel that awareness of Sikhs is growing. The media campaign after the incident has also probably contributed to increasing awareness in the area.

Mr. Manns cousin, Manpreet Singh, removed his turban and cut his hair when he was just 7, soon after arriving from India. It didnt change my belief, said Mr. Singh, 23, who is studying criminal justice at Middlesex County College and would like to become a state trooper. With what was around me at the time, it wasnt worth keeping the turban.…But the two cousins have more company now, and both are considering growing their hair again, the way they hope their own children will one day, when New Jersey has become progressively more accustomed to the sight of men wearing turbans. [link]

One 7 year old boy’s reaction was different to Manpreet Singh’s initial reaction in the same area, a decade later:

My school has almost every culture in the world, said Gagandeep Singh, 13, a seventh-grader in Edison, who also arrived from India at 7, but a crucial decade later, when he was not the only Sikh boy in his school, and who has kept his turban. They dont make fun of you that much because theyre used to seeing all different kinds of people. [link]

Community awareness of Sikhs can be one factor that makes people more comfortable in their skin. But I wonder if all the rallying our community has done in response to hate crimes over the past few years has also increased people’s pride in their faith, and in turn strengthened commitment to its teachings. Each time there is a hate crime, I feel a faint echo of the sentiment that pervades in passionate discussions of Operation Bluestar and the Delhi pogroms. In these moments, we connect with the victims and embrace our identities as Sikhs, more so than in other every-day moments where that identity may not be at the forefront of our thoughts. The response of victims has also been inspirational like Mr. Sukhvir Singh ji’s in Seattle. The events of 1984 inspired many to re-commit to their Sikh faith and I wonder if something similar may occur today.

Am I dreaming, or does this community reaction to post 9/11 hate crime- the rallying factor- resemble, to some small extent, the reaction of the Sikh community in 1984?


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9 Responses to “A note of hope in Jersey”

  1. Bobby says:

    Don't see it happening myself on a large scale, although amongst some it may happen.

    Sikhs who choose to cut their hair do it as much for personal reasons of conscience as they do because of bigotry from mainstream society. For every Sikh who cuts his hair in order to conform there is at least one Sikh who cuts his hair because he no longer agrees with the teachings or he finds it oppressive both as a physical manifestation of a faith he no longer believes in, or in rebellion against having it imposed on him since he was a kid. This is one thing that Sikhs are very rarely honest about, the different motivations Sikh men have for cutting their hair. That when they stop wearing a turban, for many there is an overwhelming sense of freedom that they feel.

    Individuals, especially living in the West, will always question religion. The individual will always react to the world he has been shaped by, and many Sikh boys and men react against the strictures they feel is placed on them by their families, and the physical manifestations of those strictures. This is just part of human nature.

    The way I see it is that Sikh organisations are in perpetual crisis over this. When you're a religion partly founded on the principles of freedom of conscience, it's hard to argue against the right of individuals to follow their religion or discard their religion as and when they wish. Often, the way that this is done is to appeal to emotional blackmail and guilt, and you see things like boys in Canada and Scotland cutting off their hair and claiming it was cut by racists in a hate crime, because they couldn't face their families and tell them the truth, that they didn't want to wear a turban any more.

    Like I said, the reasons why Sikhs cut their hair are manifold. Many cut their hair because of racism and social pressure and they want to make life easier in those situations, to avoid things like what happened after 9/11 to the Sardarji in the Texas gas station. Those people should be supported in their right to live free of discrimination. But just as many Sikhs cut their hair because they want to. No amount of crisis is going to lead to a day in which the Sikh identity become absolute again, not in the 21st Century, in the diaspora, in which people have freedom of conscience and the freedom to express their own beliefs as they want to.

  2. Bobby says:

    Don’t see it happening myself on a large scale, although amongst some it may happen.

    Sikhs who choose to cut their hair do it as much for personal reasons of conscience as they do because of bigotry from mainstream society. For every Sikh who cuts his hair in order to conform there is at least one Sikh who cuts his hair because he no longer agrees with the teachings or he finds it oppressive both as a physical manifestation of a faith he no longer believes in, or in rebellion against having it imposed on him since he was a kid. This is one thing that Sikhs are very rarely honest about, the different motivations Sikh men have for cutting their hair. That when they stop wearing a turban, for many there is an overwhelming sense of freedom that they feel.

    Individuals, especially living in the West, will always question religion. The individual will always react to the world he has been shaped by, and many Sikh boys and men react against the strictures they feel is placed on them by their families, and the physical manifestations of those strictures. This is just part of human nature.

    The way I see it is that Sikh organisations are in perpetual crisis over this. When you’re a religion partly founded on the principles of freedom of conscience, it’s hard to argue against the right of individuals to follow their religion or discard their religion as and when they wish. Often, the way that this is done is to appeal to emotional blackmail and guilt, and you see things like boys in Canada and Scotland cutting off their hair and claiming it was cut by racists in a hate crime, because they couldn’t face their families and tell them the truth, that they didn’t want to wear a turban any more.

    Like I said, the reasons why Sikhs cut their hair are manifold. Many cut their hair because of racism and social pressure and they want to make life easier in those situations, to avoid things like what happened after 9/11 to the Sardarji in the Texas gas station. Those people should be supported in their right to live free of discrimination. But just as many Sikhs cut their hair because they want to. No amount of crisis is going to lead to a day in which the Sikh identity become absolute again, not in the 21st Century, in the diaspora, in which people have freedom of conscience and the freedom to express their own beliefs as they want to.

  3. I also don't see this happening on a large scale. Unless you're active on the internet the news of the recent hate crimes probably hasn't reached you. I'm sure the vast majority of my hometown sangat didn't hear anything about the most recent attack. I know because I'm on the mailing list for the Sikh Coalition and I follow Sikhnet news, otherwise I never would have heard about it.

    I can't imagine Manpreet 'Singh' is considering wearing a turban while having the attitude reflected in his statement:

    "With what was around me at the time, it wasn’t worth keeping the turban."

    I hope that no person with this attitude ever decides to wear a turban and represent us. It is such a horrible and despicable attitude toward the crown. Sikhs used to have a price on their head and they still considered the turban "worth keeping."

    In response to Bobby:

    Wearing the turban and keeping the kaysh has nothing to do with religion and culture. It is a Dharmic lifestyle that shows a person is unafraid to walk in the image that God created them – Akal Moorat. The "overwhelming sense of freedom" that people feel from removing their turban is a false sense of freedom. If they can't be free with a turban, then blaming the turban is not going to gain you freedom, it's a scapegoat, a cop-out, and a pathetic excuse for any Sikh to use. Our freedom comes from victory over our minds – "man jeetay jag jeet." That's a much harder route and directly challenges the weakness indulged in by those who cut their hair.

  4. I also don’t see this happening on a large scale. Unless you’re active on the internet the news of the recent hate crimes probably hasn’t reached you. I’m sure the vast majority of my hometown sangat didn’t hear anything about the most recent attack. I know because I’m on the mailing list for the Sikh Coalition and I follow Sikhnet news, otherwise I never would have heard about it.
    I can’t imagine Manpreet ‘Singh’ is considering wearing a turban while having the attitude reflected in his statement:
    “With what was around me at the time, it wasnt worth keeping the turban.”

    I hope that no person with this attitude ever decides to wear a turban and represent us. It is such a horrible and despicable attitude toward the crown. Sikhs used to have a price on their head and they still considered the turban “worth keeping.”

    In response to Bobby:
    Wearing the turban and keeping the kaysh has nothing to do with religion and culture. It is a Dharmic lifestyle that shows a person is unafraid to walk in the image that God created them – Akal Moorat. The “overwhelming sense of freedom” that people feel from removing their turban is a false sense of freedom. If they can’t be free with a turban, then blaming the turban is not going to gain you freedom, it’s a scapegoat, a cop-out, and a pathetic excuse for any Sikh to use. Our freedom comes from victory over our minds – “man jeetay jag jeet.” That’s a much harder route and directly challenges the weakness indulged in by those who cut their hair.

  5. sonny says:

    there have been some recent horrible attacks on sikh students in queens as well. at richmond hill high school, a boy's patka was untied and then he was punched in the face with a key in the perpetrators knuckles. the next week a sikh girl's hair was cut in class in flushing.

    there is going to be a sikh community march in response to these attacks and inaction on the part of the school system on monday june 30th at 11am in richmond hill, meeting at the big gurdwaras and marching to richmond hill high school. we have to organize our community to take action.

  6. Reema says:

    Thanks for the info about the march in Richmond Hill, Sonny! I hope everyone in the area attends! Our thoughts are with you. I'd love to hear about the turnout, and your thoughts on it, afterwards…

  7. sonny says:

    there have been some recent horrible attacks on sikh students in queens as well. at richmond hill high school, a boy’s patka was untied and then he was punched in the face with a key in the perpetrators knuckles. the next week a sikh girl’s hair was cut in class in flushing.

    there is going to be a sikh community march in response to these attacks and inaction on the part of the school system on monday june 30th at 11am in richmond hill, meeting at the big gurdwaras and marching to richmond hill high school. we have to organize our community to take action.

  8. Reema says:

    Thanks for the info about the march in Richmond Hill, Sonny! I hope everyone in the area attends! Our thoughts are with you. I’d love to hear about the turnout, and your thoughts on it, afterwards…

  9. Community awareness of Sikhs can be one factor that makes people more comfortable in their skin. at some point there's a sense in this sentence.

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