Kids Corner


Aesthetics of The Faithful





There has been a rise in the number of Sikh men in fashion and media.

The time has come when it is fair to say that Sikh men with turbans and beards are edging to becoming fashionable. The latest example of this is 'The Singh Project’ which aims to demystify the Sikh image by presenting a range of Sikh men in various occupations and styles.

The exhibition is targeted at the mainstream ‘white’ middle classes. They are more likely to visit art galleries. The project comes at a time when having a beard, for example, has become fashionable and trendy.

It is an example of a minority community changing the perceptions of mainstream society. And not only changing the perceptions but challenging the concept of machismo and attractiveness, and the Western mainstream concept of manliness in its natural form.

Men naturally have beards and everything that is natural and organic is fashionable as well as beautiful. The minority in this case are no longer the victims but the creators of fashion.

The project by Amit and Naroop who are non­turbaned photographers present Sikh men ranging from actors to elderly men, all in different roles in society. The one common bond that all the men have is that they belong to the Sikh faith, and honour the turban, an article of faith.

When I set up the ‘Sikh Informer ‘ magazine in 1993, I received a letter from a young boy being bullied at school because he wore a patka. I felt saddened by his experience and wrote an article explaining the reasons why Sikhs wore turbans and patkas and how to deal with bullying.

Being brought up in a family of men with turbans and beards, for me they are normal, but being bullied was also ‘normal’, sadly, for many boys.

Years later I had to deal with bullying faced by my son. I spoke to many parents and many of them had similar situations and had taken the easy option of cutting the boys’ hair to stop the bullying.

If they were not being bullied, then they cited the lack of opportunities to participate in sports as their reason for cutting the hair.

I was never going to cut my son’s hair; it had never even occurred to me as an option.
My reaction was to become the school parent governor. I was elected by a majority of the parents in the school. I became active in the school and it helped.

After four years of being a parent governor I had a disagreement with the school.  I did not want the school to take the kids to France because France would discriminate against my son for wearing a patka, I was totally alone with no support from anyone. The school disagreed with me and recommended he wear a cap.

I was not happy with the situation. The school trip was cancelled, but due to unseen circumstances. Nevertheless I had decided to give up as a school governor and take a more active role in supporting young people by becoming
a Scout leader and have now been one for three years.

As a mother of two boys with patkas, we rarely get ‘looks and stares’. Locally, we are familiar faces and wearing a pakta is accepted. The only time when I felt aggressive tension in the air was when my older son was wearing a ‘hand me down’ (from relatives in Birmingham) Aston Villa t­shirt in a West Ham area. The territorial boundaries were not of physical appearance, colour of skin or religion but alliance to football groups.

Mainstream society has accepted Sikhs as an integral part of Britain. Females have not had the same extent of being bullied because of the more visible male article of faith -- the turban or the patka.

Many Sikh women have shown great inner strength wearing a dastaar -- like Baljit Kaur who thoughtfully and beautifully explained the reasons why she wore the turban and the inner strength she gained as a result. That power came from Guru Gobind Singh, his life, writings, teachings and actions. In 1699 when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa he created a revolutionary movement where everyone was equal in an otherwise caste-ridden society already torn apart by religion.

Guru Sahib not only locked in the external identity of Sikhs but also equipped them with great spiritual stamina. Many Sikhs now wear the turban in alliance to Guru Gobind Singh but he also stated that no Sikh who kills or abuses women should be a part of the faith. Sikhs have a long way to go before they can honestly and truthfully assert that gender based violence towards females, particularly in India where it is in its most violent form, is eradicated.

In the west it is largely subtle but still widespread. If Sikhs in the west can within a few decades change western perceptions of fashion and beauty because of Guru Gobind Singh’s teachings, the next step should also naturally be to change and challenge attitudes and violence towards women, which is also a part of the teachings of out Gurus and integral to being Khalsa.

Essentially, wearing the turban is not a fashion statement; it is an alliance to the teachings of the Sikh Gurus and a foundation for all Sikh men and women. Fashion is fickle but faith is commitment to the beauty of the creator and all of creation.

For within Singhs there are Kaurs, and within Kaurs there are Singhs, and within each is all of creation.

Based in the United Kingdom, the author pursues a career in Health Research and Health Management. She is also an accomplished artist and photographer.

November 13, 2014

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