Turban :The identity crisis in Sikhism

Prabhjot Singh Lotey

The Turban, a unique tradition and symbol of Sikhism, the world’s fifth largest religion, boasting nearly 25 million adherents, is on a decline and vanishing from the lands of its origin. Punjab in India. An easily identifiable Sikh with his long beard and turban is facing the heat, and has lived in fear for many decades, be it the Sikh genocide of New Delhi or the turbulent period of Sikh militancy during the late 80’s and early 90’s in India, or the recent hatred spread worldwide, that preceded the 9/11 attack. Also, the fact is that many Sikhs chose to abandon the turban in the 90’s with India’s economic growth and westernization and in the recent years the trend rose alarmingly and majority of the Sikh youth have abandoned their identity.

1984 was the year that saw the Indian military carry out operation  Blue Star, an assault on Darbar Sahib (the most sacred shrine of Sikhs), followed by anti-Sikh riots in New Delhi. As mentioned in the joint inquiry of People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), these were the outcome of a well-organized plan, marked by acts of both deliberate commissions and omissions by important politicians of the Congress (I) at the top, and by authorities in the administration.What followed was a decade-long struggle and bloodshed during the Khalistan and Sikh militancy period in the state. These incidents resulted in loss of faith of Sikhs towards the Indian state and caused a major migration to countries like US, UK, Canada, Italy. This continues to date. Sikhs, as a minority, felt secure and safe in the West, compared to their place of origin, but 9/11 changed it all for this hard-working and peaceful community. The unique appearance of long beards and Turban became a soft target for hate crimes in West, the most recent of them being an attack on Sikh gurudwara in Wisconsin, U.S.A.

French law does not allow Sikhs to submit a photo to the government authorities wearing a Turban to obtain any identification document and also not permit students to attend a state school wearing a turban. Thus, the abuse, attack and humiliation of the Turban have left deep scars on the souls of Sikhs. In spite of standing tall to all these troubles the biggest challenge for Sikhism has come from within, i.e the alarming rate at which Sikh youth has abandoned Sikh identity and Turban.

This project aims to document the lives of these young Sikh men and women, who have kept and loved their identity and are trying to give a new lease of life to Turban in times of crises. I hope it can help the Turban regain its popularity among youth and create an awareness worldwide, so that this unique, outward identity of Sikhism survives.

A Turban is a gift from my Father which brings along pride, faith, love, religion and blessings and it is my responsibility to preserve these feelings and spread them wider.

Sharandeep Singh 24, working in his home, with his digital artwork “Father’s Love’. Despite his busy 12 hours a day and 6 days a week schedule, he is committed to Sikh artwork, usually working through the night, sleeping for not more than 4 hours. The situation is such that neither can he leave the support system of his family ‘the job’ nor his love ‘Sikh artwork’, so he has decided to follow the middle path i.e to work a little harder.

Sharandeep Singh. (September 2012, Ludhiana)



Sharandeep at his place, saying early morning prayers, since he lives away from his hometown and due to a tight work schedule, rarely gets a chance to visit home and family.

Sharandeep Singh (Mandi Gobindgarh, September 2013)



I have had a love affair with the Turban since childhood, and a desire to promote this symbol of equality in Sikhism as it does not discriminate , being the same for both men and women. My greatest opportunity came when i got a chance to work at a media platform, but not before a year of struggle and rejection as the TV channel was initially skeptical about a Sikh Turbaned woman anchoring a show. However, I was lucky when one day the regular anchor was late and I got the opportunity to host the show. The overwhelming response to the show made them re-think, and I was allocated a weekly show on television.

Harsharn, anchoring one of her shows at PTC news studio in New Delhi.

Harsharn Kaur, (July 2013, New Delhi)



She loves spending spare time among friends and nature as it helps her rejuvenate away from her family and hometown.

Harsharn kaur (July 2013, New Delhi)





The incident of a college friend’s cutting of his hair and beard  just because he could not tie a Turban, changed my life once and for all. This incident gave me the idea of Turban training camps and since then we have held training camps in more than 500 rural villages of Punjab and distributed countless video cd’s for self learning of Turban tying. The only reason i see for the present crisis is the unchecked flow of drugs and vulgarity in music and films to the youth of today and through our efforts we intend to bring a change and the Turbaned Punjab of old days

Satnam Singh Dabrikhana teaching a kid in one of their camps. His organisation, Sardarian Trust is bringing a visible change with the assistance of public and few volunteers.

Satnam Singh Dabrikhana (Patiala, October 2012)



Harmandeep Singh trying to learn the art of Turban tying in one of the Sardarian trust Camp. These camps are bringing in a visible results as the records show that 35% of the participants have started wearing Turbans.

Turban training camp (Jeeta Singhwala Village, October 2012)





Young Sikh men during a Turban awareness march

More than 6,000 young Sikh boys and men from all corners of the state of the Punjab, participated in the Turban awareness march with a mission to encourage youngsters to retain and regain the lost identity of Sikhism. The participants had a dress code of white attire and yellow Turban to show solidarity and strength in being united.

Turban awareness march (Jaitu, Punjab April,2013)


Young Sikh men during a Turban awareness march

More than 6,000 young Sikh boys and men from all corners of the state of the Punjab, participated in the Turban awareness march with a mission to encourage youngsters to retain and regain the lost identity of Sikhism. The participants had a dress code of white attire and yellow Turban to show solidarity and strength in being united.

Turban awareness march (Jaitu, Punjab April,2013)


Why have i kept my identity? Because I genuinely feel it is my identity, and love how my Turban looks, feels, and what it represents. I like the feeling of putting up my hair and meditating. It was my learning of meditation, Sikh history and practice, Sikh Gurmukhi language, Indian classical music and frequent visits to Harmandir Sahib as a student at Miri Piri academy that brought me back to academy as a Teacher. I also look forward to a career in public office or government where I will proudly represent myself with the Sikh identity.

Shabd Singh Khalsa, is a economics teacher at Miri Piri academy and a writer as well. He has written for Sikh Dharma, Sikhnet, Kashi house and also writes for Miri Piri academy blog.

Shabd Singh Khalsa (Miri Piri Academy, Amritsar December 2012)



Shabd giving some extra lessons to his students during exam times.

Shabd Singh Khalsa (Miri Piri academy, Amritsar December 2012)



There is a saying ‘like father like son’, and though my drug addiction had made my life hell, far from being like my father, it was ultimately those words of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawaale ” what do we call a son who does not resemble his father” quoted by him that brought about the change, and helped me come out of drugs and brought back my identity and Sikh way of life. The day he made me face The Guru Gobind Singh portrait I realized what I need to do to be like him and my Gurus. It is been six years since that incident and since I have been living a drug-free life, on the path of Sikh principles.

Damandeep feels that its only the Sikh principles and way of like can help Sikh youth come out of the drug trap since Sikhism prohibits any type of intoxication by any means.

Damandeep Singh (Ludhiana, July 2013)




Damandeep working at his store with his father. It is incredible how he managed to quit drugs without any medication.

Damandeep Singh (Ludhiana, July 2013)






The Sikh way of life teaches us to respect and serve our parents, but because we have moved away from Sikh principles, it has caused a distance in relationships, and children tend to abandon their parents ithese days. This gave me the inspiration and idea of visiting old age people’s homes. Initially it started on a one-to-one level but then I decided to bring in more young people, so that they would also benefit from these interactions, and not make the mistakes of past generations.

Gursahib Singh(middle) with his friends have formed a group called young flares and can be seen spending some time with one of the ailing old men from old age home.

Gursahib Singh( Ludhiana, February 2013)




Youth has benefited a lot from such visits and interactions as they have developed rewarding relationships with the members of Old age home. Most of them have witnessed a change in their lives, as they now have more love and respect for their parents.

Young flares (Ludhiana, February 2013)





A television series from my childhood days on founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev ji inspired me to direct a play on similar lines. My journey in film direction started with play writing and direction then moved to short film direction as I directed several short films on Sikh issues and Sikh way of life. As Indian film making has rarely touched Sikh community issues and I intend to change it, with more learning and professional training i aspire to create a media and audience for Sikh issue based films, since i believe Sikhism is not a religion but a way of life and films are an excellent medium to promote it.

Satdeep Singh is a young aspiring film maker who has won accolades for his short films, The forgotten truth, Born to lead and Five folds.

Satdeep Singh (Ludhiana, December 2012)



The only reason for me to become an actor is because I believe there is a need for a world to see what an actual Sikh looks like since Indian film and Television Industry has failed in this regard and misrepresented and abused the Sikh identity. Most of the times a Sikh character is played by a non Sikh actors and it is time for individuals like me to come forward and take to the field of acting.

Harvinder Singh has acted in various short films, music videos and is seen playing is part during a theater play.

Harvinder Singh( GNE auditorium , Ludhiana, October 2012)



Harvinder taking some time out during his play on dowry.

Harvinder Singh (Ludhiana, December 2012)


Read this essay — http://www.prabhjotsinghlotey.com/blog/2013/09/turban-the-identity-crisis-in-sikhism-2/

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