Punjabi Sikhs: Divided, United, and Brown?

As I have been thinking about the Sikh communitys mobilization against post-9/11 U.S. racial profiling policies, such as the TSA security guidelines, I have once again been reminded of the identity politics within our Sikh community. To be honest, I really have been thinking about the divisions in our community and how they are reflected in our social activism.

I feel as though the discourse on Sikhs being the targets of racial profiling has really been about keshdari Sikhs. I must preface this argument with the statement that I understand the issues that khesdari Sikh men face every day are quite different than those of clean-shaven Sikhs. The experience of physically looking quite different than the majority of the clean-shaven population, regardless if its brown, white, yellow, or pink, that surrounds you does not make it easy to blend in. I sympathize and, more importantly, respect and admire your actions to keep your khes (i.e. hair) as a symbol of your Sikh identity. Furthermore, I undoubtedly agree that keshdari Sikhs have been the targets of racial profiling and victims of hate crimes following the events of 9/11 because they look like Osama Bin Landen and all the other bad guys in Afghanistan. However, I think about our clean-shaven Punjabi Sikh brothers who could easily pass for looking like the ACTUAL suicide bombers who hit the Twin Towers I dont really remember any of them wearing turbans nor having lengthy beards.

I have heard of a few cases of clean-shaven Punjabi Sikh men being racially profiled and harassed as our Arab and Muslim brothers I would not doubt it happening to Latino men too. I remember one clean-shaven Punjabi Sikh gentlemen sharing his experience with racial profiling immediately following the 9/11 attacks in the film, Divided We Fall: Americans In The Aftermath. These stories made me wonder if Sikh organizations, such as the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF, have made a concerted effort to reach out to clean-shaven Punjabi Sikh men to document and represent their experiences in petitions and memos sent to policy makers and politicians about Sikh racial profiling. Or are these men not Sikh enough to be part of the discussion? Some could argue that it is the external representation of Sikh identity that is being targeted for racial profiling, such as the turban and beard; clean-shaven Sikh men dont display either of those markers. However, I would argue, arent the majority of khesdari Sikh men being targeted because they are also brown? They are the ones I have commonly seen being represented in films, commercials, and literature on the fight against Sikh racial profiling. Hence, isnt there a shared history of discrimination and profiling based on dark features along with a common religious belief system, regardless of the varied decisions made by Punjabi Sikh men on keeping their hair?

I could imagine that someone could bring up the case of Goraa Sikhs, who also keep their hair and wear a turban. I would argue that a strong component of Sikh profiling is not just the turban and beard, but the color of skin. I understand I dont have statistics for my arguments, which could exist out there so please share them. I still wonder if a Punjabi khesdari Sikh man who is brown is more, less, or equally as likely as a Gorra Sikh who is white to be racially profiled? I would anecdotally argue- more brown is a threat and white is well you look different, but alright youre pretty safe.

In response to Camilles post last week here is an example of where I think the divide amongst khesdari and clean-shaven Punjabi Sikhs, who are primarily 2nd and/or 3rd generation, is negatively impacting political action in our community. I would argue that a lot of times clean-shaven Sikhs have been ignored in conversations about Sikh issues in the Diaspora. I would even argue that many 2nd and/or 3rd generation khesdari and clean-shaven Punjabi Sikhs have little understanding of each others experiences in the Diaspora as Sikhs. I would think that if clean-shaven Punjabi Sikhs were more incorporated into conversations about Sikh issues by listening to their experiences and opinions, while they to those of khesdari and amritdhari Sikhs, without judging each other to determine who are the good Sikhs, we could move towards closing the divide in our community and build a stronger movement for Sikh causes both in terms of numbers and innovative ideas for action.

 

What do you think?

What have your experiences been? Sikhs? Punjabi-Sikhs? Kesdhari? Amritdhari? Clean-Shaven? Anyone?

How about the experiences you have heard of?

What do the Gorra Sikhs think about this issue?


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17 Responses to “Punjabi Sikhs: Divided, United, and Brown?”

  1. cali-boy says:

    Here's another aspect that I've wondered about since 9/11. I am aware of several kesadhari Sikhs that removed their turban, cut their hair, and shaved their beards because they were "afraid" (this was the word they used, not mine) of the repercussions of looking like a "terrorist", albeit that none of the 9/11 terrorists sported turbans or beards.

    What I don't know is if they updated their driver's licenses or other forms of id after their physical change. If they did not and were profiled, what was the outcome? Or even what the outcome was from the people (neighbors, people at the grocery store, dry cleaners, etc.) that they interacted with.

    The same scenario, except in reverse, would apply if mona Sikhs (Punjabi or Gora) started keeping their hair and beard and started wearing a turban – what was the outcome that with the people that they interacted with.

    As far as answering your question in regards to what I have faced as a Kesadhari Sikh – My experience for the most part has been positive. The majority of my friends and acquaintances are not Sikh and I know for a fact that they have gone out of their way to "stand up" for me and Sikhism in general. I can make the argument that I have a great group of friends, but I also believe that a lot has to do with my personality and appearance. Yes, I do stand out in a crowd from a physical appearance, but personality-wise people view me as approachable and feel comfortable asking all sorts of questions including why do I wear a turban in a the first place. Additionally, speaking American English with no accent helps and always surprises people.

    I'm sure that there are people out there that will always think a certain way based on their perceived stereotypes, but that's part of our job to help change their opinion. When Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, part of the purpose of having us maintain the Kesh was to stand out, as a sort of natural uniform. I argue that maintaining the Kesh is just as important now as it was back during that time. The world has grown smaller because of the advent of the Internet and the information age, what we need to do a better job of educating the world on who the Sikhs are. Saldef and the Sikh Coalition have been doing a good job of helping to explain Sikhism, but it's also up to us as individuals to do our part too.

  2. cali-boy says:

    Here’s another aspect that I’ve wondered about since 9/11. I am aware of several kesadhari Sikhs that removed their turban, cut their hair, and shaved their beards because they were “afraid” (this was the word they used, not mine) of the repercussions of looking like a “terrorist”, albeit that none of the 9/11 terrorists sported turbans or beards.

    What I don’t know is if they updated their driver’s licenses or other forms of id after their physical change. If they did not and were profiled, what was the outcome? Or even what the outcome was from the people (neighbors, people at the grocery store, dry cleaners, etc.) that they interacted with.

    The same scenario, except in reverse, would apply if mona Sikhs (Punjabi or Gora) started keeping their hair and beard and started wearing a turban – what was the outcome that with the people that they interacted with.

    As far as answering your question in regards to what I have faced as a Kesadhari Sikh – My experience for the most part has been positive. The majority of my friends and acquaintances are not Sikh and I know for a fact that they have gone out of their way to “stand up” for me and Sikhism in general. I can make the argument that I have a great group of friends, but I also believe that a lot has to do with my personality and appearance. Yes, I do stand out in a crowd from a physical appearance, but personality-wise people view me as approachable and feel comfortable asking all sorts of questions including why do I wear a turban in a the first place. Additionally, speaking American English with no accent helps and always surprises people.

    I’m sure that there are people out there that will always think a certain way based on their perceived stereotypes, but that’s part of our job to help change their opinion. When Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, part of the purpose of having us maintain the Kesh was to stand out, as a sort of natural uniform. I argue that maintaining the Kesh is just as important now as it was back during that time. The world has grown smaller because of the advent of the Internet and the information age, what we need to do a better job of educating the world on who the Sikhs are. Saldef and the Sikh Coalition have been doing a good job of helping to explain Sikhism, but it’s also up to us as individuals to do our part too.

  3. raj says:

    after reading this post a few thoughts come to mind.

    first, you are talking about an issue of race – not an issue of religion – so when you say "clean shaven sikh" i think that you should be using the term "punjabi" or even something like "south indian"…especially in light of the fact that you liken their experience to that faced by mexican men. if the color of their skin is the issue – then it is not necessarily religious right? another example of this is muslims, black muslims in particular. do you think they experienced less profiling than middle eastern muslims?

    another thing that comes to mind is the role of organizations such as saldef and the sikh coalition. while it is undeniable that they serve the greater sikh community, it is also not a stretch to say that they do serve the interests of the punjabi population. so perhaps your stance that the organizations are not doing enough for those who do not keep their kes has some footing here. however, again i think that the problem is one of race – not religion and it is a tough balance for such organizations to draw the line…what constitutes a their constituency? – is it anyone who happens to be punjabi? or is it someone who follows the strictest of rehats? perhaps our communities understanding of what a sikh IS needs to shift or perhaps we need to form groups to work with the punjabi community in general (including those that are punjabi but not sikh…they too exist). as religiously based organizations (by name and action) they are not necessarily purposed to serve everyone who may be inferred to be a sikh and so i do not fault them for their focus on "kesadhari" sikhs – both punjabi and white (they do help those who are not sikhs of punjabi origin as well…)

    finally, the idea that those who do not keep their kes are not included in conversations about sikh issues is many pronged and as far as issue regarding appearance go i think it is difficult to argue that they MUST be included because of the very issue of "saroop" – a sikh is supposed to look a certain way. something that guru gobind singh ji said.

    i think pulling the punjabi card (i.e. i am a punjabi and therefore i am a sikh) its sometimes a copout for those who dont want to look like a sikh but want to share in all the conversations. i said sometimes.

    i'd like to acknowledge that my may reply sounds harsh or even close minded. these are just SOME of relevant initial reactions.

  4. raj says:

    after reading this post a few thoughts come to mind.

    first, you are talking about an issue of race – not an issue of religion – so when you say “clean shaven sikh” i think that you should be using the term “punjabi” or even something like “south indian”…especially in light of the fact that you liken their experience to that faced by mexican men. if the color of their skin is the issue – then it is not necessarily religious right? another example of this is muslims, black muslims in particular. do you think they experienced less profiling than middle eastern muslims?

    another thing that comes to mind is the role of organizations such as saldef and the sikh coalition. while it is undeniable that they serve the greater sikh community, it is also not a stretch to say that they do serve the interests of the punjabi population. so perhaps your stance that the organizations are not doing enough for those who do not keep their kes has some footing here. however, again i think that the problem is one of race – not religion and it is a tough balance for such organizations to draw the line…what constitutes a their constituency? – is it anyone who happens to be punjabi? or is it someone who follows the strictest of rehats? perhaps our communities understanding of what a sikh IS needs to shift or perhaps we need to form groups to work with the punjabi community in general (including those that are punjabi but not sikh…they too exist). as religiously based organizations (by name and action) they are not necessarily purposed to serve everyone who may be inferred to be a sikh and so i do not fault them for their focus on “kesadhari” sikhs – both punjabi and white (they do help those who are not sikhs of punjabi origin as well…)

    finally, the idea that those who do not keep their kes are not included in conversations about sikh issues is many pronged and as far as issue regarding appearance go i think it is difficult to argue that they MUST be included because of the very issue of “saroop” – a sikh is supposed to look a certain way. something that guru gobind singh ji said.

    i think pulling the punjabi card (i.e. i am a punjabi and therefore i am a sikh) its sometimes a copout for those who dont want to look like a sikh but want to share in all the conversations. i said sometimes.

    i’d like to acknowledge that my may reply sounds harsh or even close minded. these are just SOME of relevant initial reactions.

  5. me says:

    I actually found the premise of the post interesting but faulty. For me it just doesn't seem nuanced enough. Phulkari should be commended on trying to find experiences that may 'unite' Sikhs, but one based on some sort of 'brown' identity will not serve that purpose. This 'brown' identity, especially amongst Sikhs does not have the historical antecedents as that in the 'black' experience from which I assume she is trying to draw parallels. A 'black' identity and consciousness was a shared, formed historical experience that occurred over centuries. It was not present in Africa nor did it immediately follow soon after the shared experience of the slave trade abduction into America. It took centuries to form in America.

    Phulkari seems to believe that the 'post-911' experience was so traumatic that a 'brown' identity was formed in its wake. I am not convinced. The 'brown' label comes from those that are 'white' that are use to seeing things in a white/black binary. This binary cannot be transposed onto another community.

    Other problems from this sort of analysis is that it misses the nuances of different sorts of experiences. Non-keshadhari Sikhs (although I acknowledge Raj's intervention about the problems of this term, I am using it in an ethno-religio context and not necessarily in its original religious form) are what I would term the true victims of 'mistaken identity' should they be targeted in the post-911 context. Arabs are victimized because they are Arab; Muslims are victimized because they are Muslim; Keshadhari Sikhs are victimized because they have the icons and symbols of the perceived enemy (i.e. turbans and beards). It is not a 'mistake' when they are victimized. They are terrorized due to these symbols.

    For a non-keshadhari male to be victimized it is a true case of a 'mistaken identity.' It is the same as that of a Hindu or Latino being falsely targeted. These of course may be victims of anti-immigrant violence, but this violence, although overlap occurs, is different than that of the post-911 security state paranoia.

    To my knowledge groups such as Sikh Coalition are focusing their energies violence related to the ‘post-911 security state paranoia’. I am not sure how much they have engaged with other groups on immigrant issues. Phulkari asks or rather implies that groups such as the Sikh Coalition may not be engaging with these same concerns that non-Keshadhari Sikhs may be experiencing. But again, this is because they are of a different nature. The experiences resulting from the ‘post 911 security state paranoia’ are different from anti-immigrant violence. Although the overlap is large, it is important to make these distinctions.

    When it comes to the experiences due to the security state paranoia, Keshadhari Sikh males experiences are much closer to those of American-converted Sikhs. Kevin Harrington's experience as a NYC Subway driver would echo for many Keshadhari Sikhs of Punjabi background:

    “He told me that because I wore a turban, I wasn’t allowed to work where the public could see me. I had to work in the yard. Or else I had to wear a MTA patch on my turban, if I didn't want to be fired. But to me, I felt that my turban was being used as a billboard.”

    Due to these common shared experiences from this security state paranoia, Sikhs have formed coalition with those with shared experiences — namely Arab and Muslim groups. Interestingly these were not made with Hindu or Latino groups as the experience of the ‘post 911 security state paranoia’ is not shared with them. To the best of my knowledge issues arising from profiling due to ‘post-911 security state paranoia’ are not a concern of Hindu and Latino action groups. This would suggest that this would not be an issue to non-Keshadhari Sikh males as their experiences would be far more analogous to Hindu and Latino situation. Again anti-immigrant violence and experience is shared but again this is a different monster.

    So again, while hopefully we can conjecture more ways for our community to unite and thus Phulkari's attempt is well-received. The logic and analysis for me is too faulty and weak. We will need another basis than some supposed externally forced 'brown' identity that has little resonance within the community.

    If we talk about Sikh women, these distinctions may change and the argument changes, but as this post did not talk about women's experiences nor even consider them, I refrained from going into those issues with this comment.

  6. me says:

    I actually found the premise of the post interesting but faulty. For me it just doesn’t seem nuanced enough. Phulkari should be commended on trying to find experiences that may ‘unite’ Sikhs, but one based on some sort of ‘brown’ identity will not serve that purpose. This ‘brown’ identity, especially amongst Sikhs does not have the historical antecedents as that in the ‘black’ experience from which I assume she is trying to draw parallels. A ‘black’ identity and consciousness was a shared, formed historical experience that occurred over centuries. It was not present in Africa nor did it immediately follow soon after the shared experience of the slave trade abduction into America. It took centuries to form in America.

    Phulkari seems to believe that the ‘post-911’ experience was so traumatic that a ‘brown’ identity was formed in its wake. I am not convinced. The ‘brown’ label comes from those that are ‘white’ that are use to seeing things in a white/black binary. This binary cannot be transposed onto another community.

    Other problems from this sort of analysis is that it misses the nuances of different sorts of experiences. Non-keshadhari Sikhs (although I acknowledge Raj’s intervention about the problems of this term, I am using it in an ethno-religio context and not necessarily in its original religious form) are what I would term the true victims of ‘mistaken identity’ should they be targeted in the post-911 context. Arabs are victimized because they are Arab; Muslims are victimized because they are Muslim; Keshadhari Sikhs are victimized because they have the icons and symbols of the perceived enemy (i.e. turbans and beards). It is not a ‘mistake’ when they are victimized. They are terrorized due to these symbols.

    For a non-keshadhari male to be victimized it is a true case of a ‘mistaken identity.’ It is the same as that of a Hindu or Latino being falsely targeted. These of course may be victims of anti-immigrant violence, but this violence, although overlap occurs, is different than that of the post-911 security state paranoia.

    To my knowledge groups such as Sikh Coalition are focusing their energies violence related to the post-911 security state paranoia. I am not sure how much they have engaged with other groups on immigrant issues. Phulkari asks or rather implies that groups such as the Sikh Coalition may not be engaging with these same concerns that non-Keshadhari Sikhs may be experiencing. But again, this is because they are of a different nature. The experiences resulting from the post 911 security state paranoia are different from anti-immigrant violence. Although the overlap is large, it is important to make these distinctions.

    When it comes to the experiences due to the security state paranoia, Keshadhari Sikh males experiences are much closer to those of American-converted Sikhs. Kevin Harrington’s experience as a NYC Subway driver would echo for many Keshadhari Sikhs of Punjabi background:

    He told me that because I wore a turban, I wasnt allowed to work where the public could see me. I had to work in the yard. Or else I had to wear a MTA patch on my turban, if I didn’t want to be fired. But to me, I felt that my turban was being used as a billboard.

    Due to these common shared experiences from this security state paranoia, Sikhs have formed coalition with those with shared experiences — namely Arab and Muslim groups. Interestingly these were not made with Hindu or Latino groups as the experience of the post 911 security state paranoia is not shared with them. To the best of my knowledge issues arising from profiling due to post-911 security state paranoia are not a concern of Hindu and Latino action groups. This would suggest that this would not be an issue to non-Keshadhari Sikh males as their experiences would be far more analogous to Hindu and Latino situation. Again anti-immigrant violence and experience is shared but again this is a different monster.

    So again, while hopefully we can conjecture more ways for our community to unite and thus Phulkari’s attempt is well-received. The logic and analysis for me is too faulty and weak. We will need another basis than some supposed externally forced ‘brown’ identity that has little resonance within the community.

    If we talk about Sikh women, these distinctions may change and the argument changes, but as this post did not talk about women’s experiences nor even consider them, I refrained from going into those issues with this comment.

  7. Camille says:

    I think there are two different issues at play — one is the unique experience that kesdari Sikhs have in the wake of 9/11, and the other is the experience that brown-skinned people have in the wake of 9/11.

    It's true that the issue of kesdari vs. sahejdari (or mona) divide community advocacy. I don't want to get too far into it because I think there are much larger religious questions at play, but as someone in the kesdari camp I think it does our community a disservice on specific advocacy points to try to lump the racial and religious issues together. As someone who's had to advocate for interfaith accommodation (i.e., policy changes to accommodate Sikhs and Muslims, specifically), mona Sikhs are often become a liability. I actually think the experience must be entirely alienating — one goes from being a part of the community in question to an "ally" within their own community (that is, if they even feel capable of playing a supporting role). However, maybe this would be a better way of framing our advocacy attempts.

    A great example is the post 9/11 world. From having spoken to non-Punjabi Sikhs (non-desi Sikhs, for that matter), their kes is absolutely the reason they are targeted. While there is a strong racial component, I hear the same from my Muslim friends — they find their names throw up red flags, even when their perceived race does not (and yes, this extends to black Muslims as well).

    As for those of the "swarthier" persuasion, there's certainly greater profiling and hostility, but in my experience it doesn't even rival the experiences of kesdari Sikh men. And to be honest, within our own community (Sikh, in the broadest context), there isn't even a consensus or political consciousness over these "security" policies to begin with. I think we are huge steps behind in building a community voice — egos, politics, class, race, and different entry points certainly divide the Sikh community in the U.S.

  8. Camille says:

    I think there are two different issues at play — one is the unique experience that kesdari Sikhs have in the wake of 9/11, and the other is the experience that brown-skinned people have in the wake of 9/11.

    It’s true that the issue of kesdari vs. sahejdari (or mona) divide community advocacy. I don’t want to get too far into it because I think there are much larger religious questions at play, but as someone in the kesdari camp I think it does our community a disservice on specific advocacy points to try to lump the racial and religious issues together. As someone who’s had to advocate for interfaith accommodation (i.e., policy changes to accommodate Sikhs and Muslims, specifically), mona Sikhs are often become a liability. I actually think the experience must be entirely alienating — one goes from being a part of the community in question to an “ally” within their own community (that is, if they even feel capable of playing a supporting role). However, maybe this would be a better way of framing our advocacy attempts.

    A great example is the post 9/11 world. From having spoken to non-Punjabi Sikhs (non-desi Sikhs, for that matter), their kes is absolutely the reason they are targeted. While there is a strong racial component, I hear the same from my Muslim friends — they find their names throw up red flags, even when their perceived race does not (and yes, this extends to black Muslims as well).

    As for those of the “swarthier” persuasion, there’s certainly greater profiling and hostility, but in my experience it doesn’t even rival the experiences of kesdari Sikh men. And to be honest, within our own community (Sikh, in the broadest context), there isn’t even a consensus or political consciousness over these “security” policies to begin with. I think we are huge steps behind in building a community voice — egos, politics, class, race, and different entry points certainly divide the Sikh community in the U.S.

  9. Phulkari says:

    First, I must state that social issues like this are far to complex to be untangled in one blog post and a few comments. Therefore, my primary purpose was only to start a conversation that would bring out more of the nuances of the issue, which I commend the commentators for doing so thoughtfully. However, I sense the focus of my blog was still missed by those commenting. For the most part, their focus became the nuances.

    THE MAIN POINT/FOCUS OF MY POST: I just want non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men to be part of the CONVERSATION to build a coalition amongst Sikhs for a stronger movement against Sikh racial profiling.

    WHY?: There are numerous divisions in the Punjabi Sikh community which are reflected in our social activism. One such division is the continuous debate on who or what defines a “Sikh”. This particular division for 2nd and 3rd generation Punjabi Sikhs, to me is reflected in the advocacy movement organized by groups, such as the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF, on post-9/11 Sikh racial profiling. I believe “Sikh” to these groups means khesdari because of the pictures used in their campaigns and those primarily shown to be their supporters. Neither of these two groups specifically state their definition of a “Sikh”. Therefore, in my opinion a large part of the “Sikh population”, non-khesdari Sikhs, have been dismissed and ignored by these organizations when creating social movements affecting the Sikh and specifically Punjabi Sikh community. One such example, are the post 9/11 anti-Sikh racial (term popularly used) profiling campaigns. I highly doubt non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men have even been part of the conversation about this issue, even though they may have experienced some type of profiling. I think they should be PART OF THE CONVERSATION when addressing this issue even though their profiling is not based on religious symbols because there is a common experience of being racially profiled based on skin color. This similar experience of being profiled based on “brown” skin color can help bring non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men into the movement as, Camille suggested, as “allies”. These men may not display the “externals” of Sikhi but share the “internals” of Sikhi with khesdari Punjabi Sikh men. Therefore, I would like non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men to just be part of the conversation. We might learn something new about the experiences of religious and racial profiling, a distinction made by Raj, while bringing more Sikhs into the movement.

    I want to make clear that the group I was focusing on were Punjabi Sikh men because often in “post 9/11 Sikh racial profiling” advocacy campaigns, in my experience, it is their faces we see and not those of women (a separate issue, but one that should be addressed). This “Punjabi Sikh” reason is why I did not talk about South Asians or even specifically South Indian or Hindu men. My primary focus on Punjabi Sikh men. I referred to Arab, Muslim, and Latino men because the majority of them are also non-khesdari but still targeted for racial profiling as are some non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men. Gorra Sikhs were only brought into the conversation to highlight the importance of the color component. Furthermore, I was not trying to dismiss the experience of enormous amounts of “terror”, a term used by “Me”, and the profiling based strictly on religious symbols by all kinds/colors of khesdari Sikhs. I would undoubtedly agree that the turban and beard are the primary markers for Sikh “religious” profiling and this terror happens quite often.

    I also agree that kesdhari Punjabi Sikh men are probably profiled more often than non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men post-9/11, but I believe even if it happens less for non-khesdari men … it happens, and they should be part of the conversation. Thus, my post was not an attempt to undermine the “terror” and amount of profiling khesdari Sikh men go through based on their turban and beard. Furthermore, I commend the efforts and accomplishments of the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF. They have done a lot for the Sikh community, particular during these horrific times. As they grow I just want these organizations to be more mindful and explicit about what and who constitutes a “Sikh” for them and try to build coalitions across the divisions in our community. This post was not intended to be a comparative analysis to push for non-khesdari Sikh/Punjabi Sikh men’s advocacy on racial profiling over khesdari Sikh/Punjabi Sikh men’s religious profiling. It was an attempt to discuss how despite their differences as Punjabi Sikh men they should be brought together to build a larger and stronger Punjabi Sikh movement that would benefit each group during its own needs-specific advocacy. Moreover, in no way was I trying to advocate for a “brown” identity similar to that of a “black” identity and/or consciousness. I was simply stating that a common feature I observed among profiled khesdari Punjabi Sikh men and non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men is “brown” color. In no way can “this common ‘brown’ feature” be equated to the consciousness and socio-political momentum created through the historical development of the “black” identity.

  10. Phulkari says:

    First, I must state that social issues like this are far to complex to be untangled in one blog post and a few comments. Therefore, my primary purpose was only to start a conversation that would bring out more of the nuances of the issue, which I commend the commentators for doing so thoughtfully. However, I sense the focus of my blog was still missed by those commenting. For the most part, their focus became the nuances.

    THE MAIN POINT/FOCUS OF MY POST: I just want non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men to be part of the CONVERSATION to build a coalition amongst Sikhs for a stronger movement against Sikh racial profiling.

    WHY?: There are numerous divisions in the Punjabi Sikh community which are reflected in our social activism. One such division is the continuous debate on who or what defines a Sikh. This particular division for 2nd and 3rd generation Punjabi Sikhs, to me is reflected in the advocacy movement organized by groups, such as the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF, on post-9/11 Sikh racial profiling. I believe Sikh to these groups means khesdari because of the pictures used in their campaigns and those primarily shown to be their supporters. Neither of these two groups specifically state their definition of a Sikh. Therefore, in my opinion a large part of the Sikh population, non-khesdari Sikhs, have been dismissed and ignored by these organizations when creating social movements affecting the Sikh and specifically Punjabi Sikh community. One such example, are the post 9/11 anti-Sikh racial (term popularly used) profiling campaigns. I highly doubt non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men have even been part of the conversation about this issue, even though they may have experienced some type of profiling. I think they should be PART OF THE CONVERSATION when addressing this issue even though their profiling is not based on religious symbols because there is a common experience of being racially profiled based on skin color. This similar experience of being profiled based on brown skin color can help bring non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men into the movement as, Camille suggested, as allies. These men may not display the externals of Sikhi but share the internals of Sikhi with khesdari Punjabi Sikh men. Therefore, I would like non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men to just be part of the conversation. We might learn something new about the experiences of religious and racial profiling, a distinction made by Raj, while bringing more Sikhs into the movement.

    I want to make clear that the group I was focusing on were Punjabi Sikh men because often in post 9/11 Sikh racial profiling advocacy campaigns, in my experience, it is their faces we see and not those of women (a separate issue, but one that should be addressed). This Punjabi Sikh reason is why I did not talk about South Asians or even specifically South Indian or Hindu men. My primary focus on Punjabi Sikh men. I referred to Arab, Muslim, and Latino men because the majority of them are also non-khesdari but still targeted for racial profiling as are some non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men. Gorra Sikhs were only brought into the conversation to highlight the importance of the color component. Furthermore, I was not trying to dismiss the experience of enormous amounts of terror, a term used by Me, and the profiling based strictly on religious symbols by all kinds/colors of khesdari Sikhs. I would undoubtedly agree that the turban and beard are the primary markers for Sikh religious profiling and this terror happens quite often.

    I also agree that kesdhari Punjabi Sikh men are probably profiled more often than non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men post-9/11, but I believe even if it happens less for non-khesdari men it happens, and they should be part of the conversation. Thus, my post was not an attempt to undermine the terror and amount of profiling khesdari Sikh men go through based on their turban and beard. Furthermore, I commend the efforts and accomplishments of the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF. They have done a lot for the Sikh community, particular during these horrific times. As they grow I just want these organizations to be more mindful and explicit about what and who constitutes a Sikh for them and try to build coalitions across the divisions in our community. This post was not intended to be a comparative analysis to push for non-khesdari Sikh/Punjabi Sikh mens advocacy on racial profiling over khesdari Sikh/Punjabi Sikh mens religious profiling. It was an attempt to discuss how despite their differences as Punjabi Sikh men they should be brought together to build a larger and stronger Punjabi Sikh movement that would benefit each group during its own needs-specific advocacy. Moreover, in no way was I trying to advocate for a brown identity similar to that of a black identity and/or consciousness. I was simply stating that a common feature I observed among profiled khesdari Punjabi Sikh men and non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men is brown color. In no way can this common brown feature be equated to the consciousness and socio-political momentum created through the historical development of the black identity.

  11. me says:

    Phulkari,

    I don’t think I missed your ‘main point/focus,’ but your means are still problematic and were critiqued showing the inherent weakness of the ‘post 911’ experience as one that is shared by me, Raj, and Camille.

    Calling into question the methodology of advocacy groups is probably a good idea and would be a worthwhile discussion, but your suggested issue for how to get that conversation going is problematic. That is why it was met with criticism.

    Most of these organizations have been most focused on defending the 1st Amendment rights to live their faith without hindrance. You suggest that they are ‘creating social movements.’ I am unaware of what that movement is? SALDEF defines itself as a ‘legal defense and education fund.’ What other ‘legal defense’ issues concerning the community should it take?

    Regarding the point that non-keshadhari males are ‘being racially profiled based on skin color,’ it was exactly this point that is being contended by me and Camille. We disagree about this central point in your post.

    I would agree that most racial profiling stories we hear center on men. However, the incident against Swaran Kaur Bhullar in San Diego County (http://www.pluralism.org/news/article.php?id=2293 ) suggests that women are hardly immune to this type of violence. I wonder if she was wearing salwaar kameez and whether this also plays a role in attacks against women.

    The reason I brought up South Indian and Hindu men is because their experience WOULD most closely parallel any negativity experienced by non-keshadhari Sikh men. Non-keshadhari Sikh mens’ experience would NOT be similar to that of keshadhari Sikh males. In this way the keshadhari Sikh male experience more closely is related to the name discrimination faced by ALL Muslims and Arabs, not only of the ‘brown’ complexion. Gora Sikhs’ experience falls into that of the Muslim, Arab, and keshadhari Punjabi Sikh category. It is for this very reason that non-Punjabi and Punjabi Sikhs have come together on this issue. Theirs is a shared experience.

    Again the always-nebulous U-N-I-T-Y is a good thing. I am glad you are thinking about it and I hope others think about it as well. I am not convinced that how you advocate it is what will get us there.

  12. me says:

    Phulkari,

    I dont think I missed your main point/focus, but your means are still problematic and were critiqued showing the inherent weakness of the post 911 experience as one that is shared by me, Raj, and Camille.

    Calling into question the methodology of advocacy groups is probably a good idea and would be a worthwhile discussion, but your suggested issue for how to get that conversation going is problematic. That is why it was met with criticism.

    Most of these organizations have been most focused on defending the 1st Amendment rights to live their faith without hindrance. You suggest that they are creating social movements. I am unaware of what that movement is? SALDEF defines itself as a legal defense and education fund. What other legal defense issues concerning the community should it take?

    Regarding the point that non-keshadhari males are being racially profiled based on skin color, it was exactly this point that is being contended by me and Camille. We disagree about this central point in your post.

    I would agree that most racial profiling stories we hear center on men. However, the incident against Swaran Kaur Bhullar in San Diego County (http://www.pluralism.org/news/article.php?id=2293 ) suggests that women are hardly immune to this type of violence. I wonder if she was wearing salwaar kameez and whether this also plays a role in attacks against women.

    The reason I brought up South Indian and Hindu men is because their experience WOULD most closely parallel any negativity experienced by non-keshadhari Sikh men. Non-keshadhari Sikh mens experience would NOT be similar to that of keshadhari Sikh males. In this way the keshadhari Sikh male experience more closely is related to the name discrimination faced by ALL Muslims and Arabs, not only of the brown complexion. Gora Sikhs experience falls into that of the Muslim, Arab, and keshadhari Punjabi Sikh category. It is for this very reason that non-Punjabi and Punjabi Sikhs have come together on this issue. Theirs is a shared experience.

    Again the always-nebulous U-N-I-T-Y is a good thing. I am glad you are thinking about it and I hope others think about it as well. I am not convinced that how you advocate it is what will get us there.

  13. Phulkari says:

    Me,

    I understand your criticism and logic. I think your categorization and logic is excellent for advocating policy-making and legal action to meet the needs and ensure the rights of khesdari Sikh men. If I wanted to create a policy, I would use your logic. I guess I view just starting a conversation less complicated. I don’t think my reasoning is the strongest for creating a massive U-N-I-T-Y, but I think it has enough substance to just begin to speak more to each other on important social issues. One being Sikh racial (I would use the term religious) profiling. As I re-read my post, I can see where it could have been interpreted that I wanted the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF to take on the non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh man’s cause post-9/11 through policies and major campaigns. I was more expressing my confusion with these organizations lack of an explicit definition of who is Sikh to them and my personal belief that non-khesdaris are also Sikh … I don’t want Americans thinking Sikhs are only those who have turbans and beards, because that has been my personal experience. I think anti- Sikh religious profiling advocacy by these organizations will cause more American politicians and people to understand Sikhs. I just want them to think Sikhs are diverse in their external representation for varied reasons, so I suggest these organizations should be more explicit in their definition of a Sikh. Also, ultimately, I did write that I wanted khesdari and non-khesdari Punjabi Sikhs to just conversate more. At the end of the day, that is all I want and where we have to start. Then we can move forward because I see the potential and need for us to come together in our activism. It is not easy, but it is a possibility.

    Furthermore, we disagree on the role of race in khesdari Punjabi Sikh men's experiences post-9/11. You believe it does not play a role for khesdari Punjabi Sikh men and I believe it plays a role to some extent, even though it is not the primary factor(s).

    I believe non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men are being racial profiled because of the way they look, dark features and brown color. Therefore, I believe this experience of race playing some type of role in both groups profiling, much less for non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men and more for khesdari Punjabi Sikh men, is shared. This common experience can help bring them together to start talking and potentially advocate as a community for each other, despite their differences.

    At the end of the day I just want to know what I should say to my 2nd and 3rd generation non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh brother when I ask him to support his 2nd and 3rd generation khesdari Punjabi Sikh brother's fight to not be profiled based on his turban and beard and he tells me … "well they never even tried to ask me about my experience at the airport, I'm Sikh too … they just don't think I am a Sikh because I cut my hair, well then don't ask me for my support if I'm not good enough for you"? I can tell him … "well at the end of the day both of you internally believe in the same Sikhi, same 10 Gurus and Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji". He turns to me and says, "if we shared that much, don't you think they would have even asked me about what I went through"?

    So how would I start convince this 2nd and 3rd generation non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh man without using the, “all Sikhs like each other … our Gurus taught us not to discriminate” line because he already feel discriminated by some Sikhs? I would try to move him beyond the "Your not a good enough Sikh or even a Sikh because you cut you hair" mentality he thinks many fellow 2nd and 3rd generation khesdari Sikhs have of him and now ask him to engage in a conversation with a group of khesdari Punjabi Sikh men by building on a shared experience of skin color and dark features playing SOME type of role in both their profiling just to get the conversation started.

    How do I get a conversation started with a Sikh organization, such as Sikh Coalition or SALDEF that services a large group of Sikhs and has played a major role in anti-Sikh religious profiling campaigns, while considering that they have limited resources and so forth to even talk to some non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men who are not part of the Sikh keshdari policies and legal action they are advocating for? I think the resources they devote to this conversation are worth while because it will bridge the differences in our community and begin to bring in more Sikhs to support the campaign. I would build on a shared experience of skin color and dark features playing SOME type of role to just get the conversation started.

  14. Phulkari says:

    Me,

    I understand your criticism and logic. I think your categorization and logic is excellent for advocating policy-making and legal action to meet the needs and ensure the rights of khesdari Sikh men. If I wanted to create a policy, I would use your logic. I guess I view just starting a conversation less complicated. I dont think my reasoning is the strongest for creating a massive U-N-I-T-Y, but I think it has enough substance to just begin to speak more to each other on important social issues. One being Sikh racial (I would use the term religious) profiling. As I re-read my post, I can see where it could have been interpreted that I wanted the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF to take on the non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh mans cause post-9/11 through policies and major campaigns. I was more expressing my confusion with these organizations lack of an explicit definition of who is Sikh to them and my personal belief that non-khesdaris are also Sikh I dont want Americans thinking Sikhs are only those who have turbans and beards, because that has been my personal experience. I think anti- Sikh religious profiling advocacy by these organizations will cause more American politicians and people to understand Sikhs. I just want them to think Sikhs are diverse in their external representation for varied reasons, so I suggest these organizations should be more explicit in their definition of a Sikh. Also, ultimately, I did write that I wanted khesdari and non-khesdari Punjabi Sikhs to just conversate more. At the end of the day, that is all I want and where we have to start. Then we can move forward because I see the potential and need for us to come together in our activism. It is not easy, but it is a possibility.

    Furthermore, we disagree on the role of race in khesdari Punjabi Sikh men’s experiences post-9/11. You believe it does not play a role for khesdari Punjabi Sikh men and I believe it plays a role to some extent, even though it is not the primary factor(s).

    I believe non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men are being racial profiled because of the way they look, dark features and brown color. Therefore, I believe this experience of race playing some type of role in both groups profiling, much less for non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men and more for khesdari Punjabi Sikh men, is shared. This common experience can help bring them together to start talking and potentially advocate as a community for each other, despite their differences.

    At the end of the day I just want to know what I should say to my 2nd and 3rd generation non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh brother when I ask him to support his 2nd and 3rd generation khesdari Punjabi Sikh brother’s fight to not be profiled based on his turban and beard and he tells me … “well they never even tried to ask me about my experience at the airport, I’m Sikh too … they just don’t think I am a Sikh because I cut my hair, well then don’t ask me for my support if I’m not good enough for you”? I can tell him … “well at the end of the day both of you internally believe in the same Sikhi, same 10 Gurus and Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji”. He turns to me and says, “if we shared that much, don’t you think they would have even asked me about what I went through”?

    So how would I start convince this 2nd and 3rd generation non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh man without using the, all Sikhs like each other our Gurus taught us not to discriminate line because he already feel discriminated by some Sikhs? I would try to move him beyond the “Your not a good enough Sikh or even a Sikh because you cut you hair” mentality he thinks many fellow 2nd and 3rd generation khesdari Sikhs have of him and now ask him to engage in a conversation with a group of khesdari Punjabi Sikh men by building on a shared experience of skin color and dark features playing SOME type of role in both their profiling just to get the conversation started.

    How do I get a conversation started with a Sikh organization, such as Sikh Coalition or SALDEF that services a large group of Sikhs and has played a major role in anti-Sikh religious profiling campaigns, while considering that they have limited resources and so forth to even talk to some non-khesdari Punjabi Sikh men who are not part of the Sikh keshdari policies and legal action they are advocating for? I think the resources they devote to this conversation are worth while because it will bridge the differences in our community and begin to bring in more Sikhs to support the campaign. I would build on a shared experience of skin color and dark features playing SOME type of role to just get the conversation started.

  15. Camille says:

    Hi Phulkari :)

    I understand the larger point about entertaining a broader conversation given that there are two elements of discrimination at play (in this context, I think "racial profiling" is used because race is a fluid concept and because there is not a good alternate phrase, although simply "profiling" would probably suffice).

    I just want to address, specifically, the following:

    I believe “Sikh” to these groups means khesdari because of the pictures used in their campaigns and those primarily shown to be their supporters. Neither of these two groups specifically state their definition of a “Sikh”. Therefore, in my opinion a large part of the “Sikh population”, non-khesdari Sikhs, have been dismissed and ignored by these organizations when creating social movements

    I was avoiding this because it creates such a large feeling of alienation among many and is controversial to say, but for the purposes of religious advocacy (and, for many adherents of Sikhi), being non-kesdari means you are NOT a Sikh. It is a much different thing to be someone actively pursuing your spiritual development and your progression in Sikhi (and perhaps be non-kesdari in that moment), but it is another thing to "grow up Sikh" and then loosely identify with the faith (and be continuously non-kesdari). I think raj is really right in saying that for many folks, Sikhi is a cultural identification more than a religious identification. On a completely tangential note, I wonder if the Sikh faith community will split and diversify in ways similar to the Jewish diaspora the U.S., in which you have people who identify as "culturally" Jewish but atheist or otherwise, while others identify as culturally and religiously Jewish (to varying degrees of practice).

    But to bring it back, if you are trying to build a united case for the right to free exercise (under the First Amendment), then it DOES NOT HELP to have examples of people who are "Sikh-lite" thrown up in your advocacy midst. I'll use a few examples from personal experience. In one case, I was doing a diversity training with law enforcement officials who couldn't understand why a person could not cut their hair and forego their turban. I explained it was an article of faith. Their response? They knew far more "Sikhs" who had cut their hair. In another example, a group was advocating for the right to carry the kirpan in state buildings, and one of the students present said he wore a necklace with a "mini kirpan" on it to "remind him of his faith" and that it made him feel better. When asked if this was an appropriate substitute, he said YES (despite the rest of the group — all kesdari and half amritdhari, btw — vehemently disagreeing). While this probably shows that we should have coordinated ahead of time, the bigger problem, from an advocacy viewpoint, is that it weakened the strength of our argument that the kirpan is a required article of faith for amritdhari Sikhs. When advocating for inclusion, you want to go with the most useful policy, not with a policy so mired and limited by exceptions that it becomes pointless. This is what happens when, on issues of religion and religious accommodation, you lump kesdari and non-kesdari Sikhs into the same constituency.

    I don't fault SALDEF or Sikh Coalition for showing pictures of kesdari Sikhs — these individuals are targeted in specific and different ways from other brown-skinned individuals (non-kesdari Sikhs included in that category).

    If non-kesdari Sikhs want to rally against racial profiling and support current advocacy efforts, then no one is stopping them. When I was in college most Sikhs were non-kesdari, and everyone participated in meetings and know-your-right events with SALDEF. As is the case for other "ally" communities, the onus to join in the march, in my opinion, is on that "ally" group. If this happens to be non-kesdari Sikhs within the larger Sikh community, than that's how it goes.

  16. Camille says:

    Hi Phulkari :)

    I understand the larger point about entertaining a broader conversation given that there are two elements of discrimination at play (in this context, I think “racial profiling” is used because race is a fluid concept and because there is not a good alternate phrase, although simply “profiling” would probably suffice).

    I just want to address, specifically, the following:

    I believe Sikh to these groups means khesdari because of the pictures used in their campaigns and those primarily shown to be their supporters. Neither of these two groups specifically state their definition of a Sikh. Therefore, in my opinion a large part of the Sikh population, non-khesdari Sikhs, have been dismissed and ignored by these organizations when creating social movements

    I was avoiding this because it creates such a large feeling of alienation among many and is controversial to say, but for the purposes of religious advocacy (and, for many adherents of Sikhi), being non-kesdari means you are NOT a Sikh. It is a much different thing to be someone actively pursuing your spiritual development and your progression in Sikhi (and perhaps be non-kesdari in that moment), but it is another thing to “grow up Sikh” and then loosely identify with the faith (and be continuously non-kesdari). I think raj is really right in saying that for many folks, Sikhi is a cultural identification more than a religious identification. On a completely tangential note, I wonder if the Sikh faith community will split and diversify in ways similar to the Jewish diaspora the U.S., in which you have people who identify as “culturally” Jewish but atheist or otherwise, while others identify as culturally and religiously Jewish (to varying degrees of practice).

    But to bring it back, if you are trying to build a united case for the right to free exercise (under the First Amendment), then it DOES NOT HELP to have examples of people who are “Sikh-lite” thrown up in your advocacy midst. I’ll use a few examples from personal experience. In one case, I was doing a diversity training with law enforcement officials who couldn’t understand why a person could not cut their hair and forego their turban. I explained it was an article of faith. Their response? They knew far more “Sikhs” who had cut their hair. In another example, a group was advocating for the right to carry the kirpan in state buildings, and one of the students present said he wore a necklace with a “mini kirpan” on it to “remind him of his faith” and that it made him feel better. When asked if this was an appropriate substitute, he said YES (despite the rest of the group — all kesdari and half amritdhari, btw — vehemently disagreeing). While this probably shows that we should have coordinated ahead of time, the bigger problem, from an advocacy viewpoint, is that it weakened the strength of our argument that the kirpan is a required article of faith for amritdhari Sikhs. When advocating for inclusion, you want to go with the most useful policy, not with a policy so mired and limited by exceptions that it becomes pointless. This is what happens when, on issues of religion and religious accommodation, you lump kesdari and non-kesdari Sikhs into the same constituency.

    I don’t fault SALDEF or Sikh Coalition for showing pictures of kesdari Sikhs — these individuals are targeted in specific and different ways from other brown-skinned individuals (non-kesdari Sikhs included in that category).

    If non-kesdari Sikhs want to rally against racial profiling and support current advocacy efforts, then no one is stopping them. When I was in college most Sikhs were non-kesdari, and everyone participated in meetings and know-your-right events with SALDEF. As is the case for other “ally” communities, the onus to join in the march, in my opinion, is on that “ally” group. If this happens to be non-kesdari Sikhs within the larger Sikh community, than that’s how it goes.

  17. cast issue is a major issue now a days. Cast system is very poor every where. We should give respect to all religions of the world and all casts. Every one deserves love so we should give respect to all.