Sikhi by fear, guilt or love?

He locked the washroom door, unravelled the nine-metre turban, took a pair of scissors and started cutting. Ten minutes later, three feet of hair lay in a pile and Charanbir Singh sat down and cried.

Outside, his parents and grandmother were in tears. Two friends persuaded him to come out, but Charanbir, his head wrapped in a towel, rushed to his room.

That was a year ago. Charanbir, now 17, still shudders at the memory. “I had to cut my hair.”(Link)

One of ironies of life in the 21st century western world is that despite an unparalleled degree of freedom of religion, the majority of people seem to be opting for freedom from religion.

Last week, Raveena Aulakh, a reporter from the Toronto Star, put a Canadian twist on the worldwide issue of apostasy amongst Sikh Youth.

Sikhism dates back to 15th-century India. Adherents are required to not cut their hair, considered a visible testament to their connection with their creator. The turban was adopted to manage long hair and make Sikhs easily identifiable.

For many young men in Greater Toronto, that is the problem: They don’t want to stand out.

Like other new or second-generation immigrants, many Sikh youngsters are desperate to fit in with the school crowd, while others complain of racism because they wear the turban. Add to that cultural influences, peer pressure and the desire to assimilate.

The end result? Many youngsters cut their hair, leading to family friction and, in some cases, lasting estrangement.

As a counterpoint, in the article and video above, Pardeep Singh Nagra (of boxing fame) presents his thoughts on why hes decided to keep his hair.

Fear & Guilt

Ive often wondered why so many Sikh youth keep their hair through high school but cut it as soon as they feel free from their parent’s control? From my perspective I see this as symptomatic of a great challenge facing Sikhs around the world today. Somehow, someway, we have fallen into the trap of pushing Sikhi to the next generation with fear and guilt, rather than sharing Sikhi through love.

Take your typical Sikh family; actually take mine. My now 25 year old cousin in Punjab had wanted to cut his hair since he was a teenager but two things stopped him. He was afraid that if he cut his hair his dad would beat him and then disown him. Secondly, he knew that if he did get a haircut and shave he wouldnt be able to look his crying mom in the eye.

Unfortunately, there was little positive reinforcement around Sikhi in his life. Sure there was Sikhi by osmosis: visiting Gurdwaras, gurbani playing in the background, the odd sakhi told by our visiting grandfather. However, my cousin had little exposure to the aspects of Sikhi (nitnem, kirtan, seva, simran) that would have connected him with his faith on a deeper level. Most of the discussions with his parents were a flavour of the famous Goodness Gracious Me clip. So not surprisingly, upon entering college, he too cut his hair. And sure enough, he became our family’s black sheep, making a kid with already low self-esteem, feel even worse.

Wheres The Love?

Rather than the fear and guilt he got, my cousin needed love. He could have been instilled with a sense of pride and deep connection to his faith, people, traditions, history and most importantly, the Gurus divinely-inspired bani. With this foundation, keeping the outward appearance would have been a natural manifestation of his internal commitment.

So why didnt this happen? I think there were two main causes. The first was a lack of communication between him and his parents. Many parents, especially in Punjab, still think that parenting is a one-way street that requires little listening or patience on their part. They talk and the kids listen and obey. My cousin rarely had real conversations with his parents, so he never had the chance to open up about what was going through his head. Whereas an open dialogue would allow greater understanding and empathy on both ends, the lack of it results in explosive situations like with Charnbir (above). If a child chooses to cut his hair, for whatever reason, the parents shouldnt be finding out about it when he walks through the door with the haircut. Like all life-changing decisions, there needs to be a healthy and open discussion.

The second reason why I dont think Sikhi by love happens in most households is that it requires a deep knowledge of Sikhi beyond rhetoric and platitudes. Answering why do I keep my hair and wear a turban? with because your dad and grandfather do isnt going to satisfy anyone (and never really did). So while this isnt always the case, many times when children do have questions about Sikhi, the parents are unequipped for providing relevant and insightful answers. My mother has often stated that while we have lots of camps and retreats for youth, what we really need are programs for parents on how to be Sikh parents.

Looking For Love

So what can be done? How do we get young Sikhs to fall in love with Sikhi? From my perspective, the answer lies in creating an atmosphere of Sangat to provide direction and support as well as to create the relevant tools to help them on their journey.

In sangat, our Gurus understood “peer pressure” centuries before the term was even coined. They knew that an individual would absorb the qualities of those he or she associated with. Hence the primacy in Sikhi, of finding divinely-inspired companions to help show the path to spirituality. Peer pressure is often the determining factor as it leverages the natural teenage desire to fit in and conform. This can be towards or away from Sikhi.

We can use peer pressure to our advantage to help reinforce Sikhi in youth. We need more opportunities for Sikh youth to positively interact with one another that tacitly confirm the complete normalcy of keeping a Sikh identity. These can range from traditional religious activities like youth kirtans, retreats, and gurbani circles to more contemporary initiatives like sports teams, tournaments, book clubs, art clubs, and volunteer groups. The key is to create a safe, low-pressure positive environment where Sikh youth are comfortable hanging out, having fun, learning and sharing.

A great example is Yudh Gatka Akhara in Brampton (Toronto). Run in a completely professional manner by Sarbjeet Singh, the akhara has dozens of young Sikh boys and girls enrolled in regular gatka classes. Sure the kids learn self-defense, but more importantly they learn self-esteem and resilience in a Sikh context. Ive seen shy, confused and unsure teenage boys walk in to the akhara and walk out just a few months later with a spring in their step, confident and proud of who they are.

Another example is a Friday night basketball session in Malton/Rexdale (Toronto). For years, Harpreet Singh Dhariwal has booked out a school gym where guys come and play ball. Anyone can play, no questions, no lectures. Just pure basketball. Some of the guys have been coming for years and others are brand new. You can tell the new ones because theyre always amazed that anyone can call a joora time-out whenever their dastaar, patka or joora comes undone. In the small rule change, Harpreet has made the challenge of a Sikh identity in sports a non-issue and more importantly normal.

We have some great programs in existence today, but the reality is that, if we flipped a switch, and got every kid interested in Sikhi, they wouldnt have anywhere to go. Our current initiatives serve less than 1% of the Sikh population and, in their current structure, are utterly unscalable.

However, let us not forget that sangat begins at home. There are lots of books and sources on improving communications between parents and children so I wont delve in to that here. However, I believe its awfully hard to compensate for not having an atmosphere of Sikhi and sangat in the home. Sure its always possible, but as Stephen Covey loves saying that families that pray together, stay together.

The other area I alluded to is the need for relevant tools for Sikh youth to use on their spiritual path.

Literature

Maybe Im missing the boat, but the dirty little secret of Sikh literature is that theres been little written in the last 20 years that I could recommend to a non-practicing Sikh friend, that would deeply inspire to explore the faith. Sure we have Dr. IJ Singh and a handful of others, but we need dozens of thought proving authors. We need Sikh equivalents of Stephen Covey, Eckhart Tolle, Paulo Coelho, and John C. Maxwell. We need writers that stir the heart and move the soul.

The novel, The Shack by William P. Young has been getting huge coverage lately. Id love to read a Sikh novel that also does for us what this book has done for some like producer Patrick Roddy, one of a kind invitation to journey to the very heart of God. Through my tears and cheers, I have been indeed transformed by the tender mercy with which William Paul Young opened the veil that too often separated me from God and from myself.

Music

I am still stirred to tears by Hans Raj Hans Patta Patta Singhan Da Vaire as well as Chamkila / Amarjots Talwar Kalghidar Di Han. In their own ways, theyve provided a rallying cry to a previous generation of Sikhs.

Finally, after years of Sikhs leading the charge on the bhangra scene and heavy influence from the hip-hop / R&B world, were starting to see a new generation of Sikh artists producing socially conscious music that speaks to the Sikh spirit and identity.

The Immortal Shaheedi series is heard around the world and I was amazed by how often I heard the tracks in Punjab. The new video for Son of a Sardar by Tigerstyle is fantastic. Im still waiting for Sukhdeep Singh Bhogal from Australia to come out with a sequel for Just 2 Live Another Day. Finally, Humble The Poet (aka Kanwer Singh) is becoming legendary with his lyrics and style.

Even in Punjab, youre seeing more creativity coming into dharmak music like Taranampreets new song. And if youve been turned off from dhadi jathas, listening to Tarsem Singh Moranwali will remind you why Guru Hargobind started the tradition to hype up his Sikhs.

Photography

Here we are starting to see some progress, but if pictures are worth a thousand words, were still thousands of pictures behind. Professionals like Nick Fleming and Charles Meacham have done a great job profiling Sikhs in Punjab.

However what is really encouraging is seeing a new generation of Sikh youth taking an interest in photography. Artists like Solarider, Jaskirat Dhaliwal, Kamal of Digitilogy, Gurpreet Kaur, Hartaarn Singh and Simran Kaur are using the art to express their individual spirituality.

Film

While words, images and sounds each uniquely speak to the soul in different ways, nothing compares to the sheer overwhelming power of film. Sikh films have made great progress in the last decade with productions like Divided We Fall, My Mother India, Continuous Journey, Amu, The Widow Colony, and Ocean of Pearls. I can personally attest that each of these films has made me a better Sikh, but again this is the tip of the iceberg. Were still waiting for the Sikh Braveheart.

Web

I wont give you a laundry list of sites, but almost monthly, theres a new website presenting a different take on Sikhi. Theres almost too much out there now, but some of the best are listed on this sites blog roll.

In Conclusion

This Toronto Star article reported on a trend that has been all too well documented. What Id love to see are articles on the individuals who are reversing this apostasy by re-adorning their external Sikh identity. While their numbers are smaller, their stories are certainly more inspiring.

Much to my delight, my cousin is one of them. Long story short, his parents eventually ceased and desisted with the guilt/fear and let him be himself. Soon thereafter he was blessed with some fantastic sangat who helped him connect with the Gurus message in a way that spoke to him for the first time in his life. He fell in love with Sikhi. Over time, with a strengthened inner core of Sikhi, no one had to push him to display it on the outside. He kept his hair and starting wearing a dastaar on his own accord.


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31 Responses to “Sikhi by fear, guilt or love?”

  1. TheTruth says:

    Good article.

    But just remember:

    Being a true Sikh isnt easy, or else everyone would be one. It takes a lot of power and control.

    I dont cheer nor do I condone those who choose to crop their locks as the article put it, I just accept it as something that just is.

    One point I feel that needs to be raised is the connection between those who cut their hair for the females, and those who simply cut it because they feel they cant take the pressure any more. I would love to see the numbers on a study like that.

  2. TheTruth says:

    Good article.

    But just remember:

    Being a true Sikh isnt easy, or else everyone would be one. It takes a lot of power and control.

    I dont cheer nor do I condone those who choose to crop their locks as the article put it, I just accept it as something that just is.

    One point I feel that needs to be raised is the connection between those who cut their hair for the females, and those who simply cut it because they feel they cant take the pressure any more. I would love to see the numbers on a study like that.

  3. ambi says:

    Last week, Raveena Aulakh, a reporter from the Toronto Star, put a Canadian twist on the worldwide issue of apostasy amongst Sikh Youth.

    So cutting of hair is straight up apostasy?

    Or rejection of the Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib and rejection of mool mantra apostasy?

    Apostasy is such a sinister word. It makes me think of Islamic death threats and burning at the stake in medieval Christian Europe.

  4. ambi says:

    Somehow, someway, we have fallen into the trap of pushing Sikhi to the next generation with fear and guilt, rather than sharing Sikhi through love.

    Pardeep Sing Nagra has very simply, very succinctly, and very perfectly enunciated TRUTH in this sentence.

  5. Dostum says:

    Please add one word Sikhi by threat

    They think by terrorising people they can force sikhi on people! They have totally forgotten the language of love. They don't need anybody else to do the damage to the religion. They are sufficient unto themselves. God ! save sikhi from sikhs.

  6. ambi says:

    Last week, Raveena Aulakh, a reporter from the Toronto Star, put a Canadian twist on the worldwide issue of apostasy amongst Sikh Youth.

    So cutting of hair is straight up apostasy?

    Or rejection of the Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib and rejection of mool mantra apostasy?

    Apostasy is such a sinister word. It makes me think of Islamic death threats and burning at the stake in medieval Christian Europe.

  7. ambi says:

    Somehow, someway, we have fallen into the trap of pushing Sikhi to the next generation with fear and guilt, rather than sharing Sikhi through love.

    Pardeep Sing Nagra has very simply, very succinctly, and very perfectly enunciated TRUTH in this sentence.

  8. Dostum is another alias for Jeetu Singh Khalsa and his other sock puppets. Identical grammar and the same lack of substance.

  9. Dostum says:

    Please add one word Sikhi by threat
    They think by terrorising people they can force sikhi on people! They have totally forgotten the language of love. They don’t need anybody else to do the damage to the religion. They are sufficient unto themselves. God ! save sikhi from sikhs.

  10. RP Singh says:

    Excellent post, Maple Leaf Sikh! A very thoughtful analysis. I couldn't agree with you more on your point about the importance of Sangat. So many of the Sikhs I know who have overcome hurdles of peer pressure had some "link" with Sikhi…whether it was Gatka, Keertan, Sikh art, or recent history. You have mentioned others, such as music, film, photography, and literature. As we develop these areas further, perhaps it can be left for the next generation to benefit from and be inspired.

  11. Dostum says:

    Mr. Ibadat Singh, it is said,'when people are short of ideas, they are full of crap'. And for your information, "grammar" is always "identical" in a any language. It does not change with a change of an individual. 'Style' may be different not 'grammar' As far as 'lack of substance' is concerned, perhaps you need to go and check its meaning again. To negate anything is easy. To reason for it is something that requires knowledge.

    God bless.

  12. Dostum is another alias for Jeetu Singh Khalsa and his other sock puppets. Identical grammar and the same lack of substance.

  13. RP Singh says:

    Excellent post, Maple Leaf Sikh! A very thoughtful analysis. I couldn’t agree with you more on your point about the importance of Sangat. So many of the Sikhs I know who have overcome hurdles of peer pressure had some “link” with Sikhi…whether it was Gatka, Keertan, Sikh art, or recent history. You have mentioned others, such as music, film, photography, and literature. As we develop these areas further, perhaps it can be left for the next generation to benefit from and be inspired.

  14. Dostum says:

    Mr. Ibadat Singh, it is said,’when people are short of ideas, they are full of crap’. And for your information, “grammar” is always “identical” in a any language. It does not change with a change of an individual. ‘Style‘ may be different not ‘grammar’ As far as ‘lack of substance’ is concerned, perhaps you need to go and check its meaning again. To negate anything is easy. To reason for it is something that requires knowledge.
    God bless.

  15. Dostam aka Jeetu said: "grammar” is always “identical” in a any language."

    [Actually, Dostum has not sock puppeted since he was warned (and is not any of the commenters you claimed). ~Admin]

  16. an Indian sikh says:

    With you on this, Ambi.

  17. Dostam aka Jeetu said: “grammar is always identical in a any language.”

    [Actually, Dostum has not sock puppeted since he was warned (and is not any of the commenters you claimed). ~Admin]

  18. an Indian sikh says:

    With you on this, Ambi.

  19. Dostum says:

    By in any language I meant :in any particular language (and certainly not all languages which you try to prove). I thought a 'hint is enough to the wise'. But I was wrong.

    And,Admin Singh proved how intelligent you are in 'proving' certain things.

  20. Dostum says:

    By in any language I meant :in any particular language (and certainly not all languages which you try to prove). I thought a ‘hint is enough to the wise’. But I was wrong.
    And,Admin Singh proved how intelligent you are in ‘proving’ certain things.

  21. satvinder says:

    Good article. You are absolutely right that even if we did "flip a switch" and turn every youth to Sikhi, where would they go? Also I could not help but notice that you omitted Painting/artwork from your list of arts that can be a vehicle for inspiration. There is some really good work by both Kanwar Singh http://www.artofpunjab.com/ and Bhupinder singh http://www.bhupi.ca.
    Hopefully there will be more appreciation for the arts in our community in the future because so far they have been a largely discarded tool.

  22. satvinder says:

    Good article. You are absolutely right that even if we did “flip a switch” and turn every youth to Sikhi, where would they go? Also I could not help but notice that you omitted Painting/artwork from your list of arts that can be a vehicle for inspiration. There is some really good work by both Kanwar Singh http://www.artofpunjab.com/ and Bhupinder singh http://www.bhupi.ca.
    Hopefully there will be more appreciation for the arts in our community in the future because so far they have been a largely discarded tool.

  23. The importance of this piece cannot be overestimated. Maple Leaf Sikh has touched on timely, practical, and constructive ways in which we can depart the values, identity, and history of our Faith to the next generation. It's so true that in our parent's generation, parenting was a one-way street. We'd do our kids a great disservice if we employ the same "Goodness Gracious" mentality. Fostering LOVE in the hearts of our children for their Gurus, in addition to creating a nurturing learning environment about their Faith, will make it very difficult for them to discard their spiritual identity and heritage later on.

    As stressed in the above piece, parents need to be pro-active in this critical process. It comes down to educating oneself and about the tenets of Sikhi, experiencing the power of Simran, the reward of Sewa, and the benefit of Sangat – before we can pass it on with assurance and conviction to our children. It is also fundamental to affirm our spiritual identity as a GIFT – rather than an obstacle, hindrance, or mindless ritual.

  24. The importance of this piece cannot be overestimated. Maple Leaf Sikh has touched on timely, practical, and constructive ways in which we can depart the values, identity, and history of our Faith to the next generation. It’s so true that in our parent’s generation, parenting was a one-way street. We’d do our kids a great disservice if we employ the same “Goodness Gracious” mentality. Fostering LOVE in the hearts of our children for their Gurus, in addition to creating a nurturing learning environment about their Faith, will make it very difficult for them to discard their spiritual identity and heritage later on.

    As stressed in the above piece, parents need to be pro-active in this critical process. It comes down to educating oneself and about the tenets of Sikhi, experiencing the power of Simran, the reward of Sewa, and the benefit of Sangat – before we can pass it on with assurance and conviction to our children. It is also fundamental to affirm our spiritual identity as a GIFT rather than an obstacle, hindrance, or mindless ritual.

  25. skeptic says:

    I would advise against using 'Divided We Fall' as a good example of Sikhi. Far from merely being a substandard production, from the standpoint of numerous film students including myself, the views of the narrator are problematic. In dealing with Sikhism, certain scenes in the film follow the typical blame-the-TURBANED-Muslims-for-9/11 and not us turbaned people. The point shouldn't be to re-direct racism and public outrage to another group, but to question racism to Sikhism itself or as a whole to all groups.

  26. skeptic says:

    I would advise against using ‘Divided We Fall’ as a good example of Sikhi. Far from merely being a substandard production, from the standpoint of numerous film students including myself, the views of the narrator are problematic. In dealing with Sikhism, certain scenes in the film follow the typical blame-the-TURBANED-Muslims-for-9/11 and not us turbaned people. The point shouldn’t be to re-direct racism and public outrage to another group, but to question racism to Sikhism itself or as a whole to all groups.

  27. A. Singh says:

    The problem that I perceive with the Sikh community is the skewed balance between the two genders and Sikhi. Currently, the structure that our parents/community has put into place is not working at all, let me explain. Sikh boys are expected to keep hair and wear a patka/dastar from a young age, they are not given a choice. Sikh females are not expected to do anything in terms of the hair aspect of Sikhi, Sikh parents don't even bother to cover their daughters head. This leads to friction in the Sikh community and the importance of the males hair over the females. Guru Ji gave us Sikhs an identity, so that society could distinguish a Sikh from a non-Sikh. I've met Sikh girls that I didn't even know were Sikh until they told me their name, I had assumed they were Hindu or Middle Eastern, is this the Sikh identity? Furthermore, too many Sikh men are forced to keep dastars by their parents/community to fulfill a longstanding tradition, so it is no surprise that people are having psychological problems due to doing something they don't want to. The majority of SIkh females have haircuts and very few are expected to keep their hair and wear a dastar, they have more of a choice with their hair. If you ever meet a Sikh girl that wears a dastar, it is often by her own personal choice than her parents or the communities pressure. The problem is we are not giving our Sikh males the choice that the females have. We are being selfish. Keeping hair/dastars on one gender while the other gender cuts and shaves their hair away is futile. The future will see young Sikh men with dastars but they females will be haircut and shaved, what kind of Sikhi is that. White Sikhs follow Sikhi 100 percent and expect both their sons and daughters to fulfill the khes and dastar part of Sikhi, it is not just a guy thing.

  28. Sher says:

    Interesting the writer has mentioned Hans Raj Hans. interesting as Hans Raj Hans's Ravidassia community is abandoning Tat Khalsa Sikhi for the reasons which find echo in this article. On top of this list is repression by Jat Sikhs of EVERY other faith in Punjab and nearby Sikh-dominated areas.

  29. Sylvia says:

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