Why are Sikhs so proud

The lawyer Jaswinder Singh will never understand that things are getting so out of hand even in Amritsar. In the holy city of all places, in the spiritual and religious center of Sikhism, in the state of Punjab, of all places, where most of India's 18 million Sikhs live.

Here, of all places, the hairdressers no longer know what to do with all that man's hair. The boys let themselves be sheared like sheep, the valuable, meter-long hair, grown for a lifetime, an expression of respect for God. Just go away. And the turban at the same time.

If things continue like this, Jaswinder Singh says in the Amritsar Journal, there will be no more Sikh with turban in twenty years. It's a shame. Didn't Guru Gobind Singh forbid every Sikh to cut their hair in 1699. The men should wear it under a turban as a sign of honesty and as a distinguishing feature. Take care of your hair.

But the boys don't give a damn. Jaswinder Singh knows this only too well, he is the leader of the "Turban pride movement" and therefore ex officio responsible for the heads of his fellow believers. The problem is very serious, he says. In his opinion, only half of all Sikh men still wear turbans. "We will have to fight to avert the tide."

Useless in modern life

But the youth welcomes the flood. She is fed up with the bother with the hair and the scarf that she has to wrap around her head every morning. The dastaar, six to sixteen meters of fabric. You don't just put it off or on.

It takes forever to put the meter-long fabric on properly. To the double patty turban or the three-layer Dhamala turban. Each a little work of art. It is just as pointless to ask a Sikh to take off a turban for a moment as to ask a pop singer not to take anything off, writes the Indian author Melvin Durai.

In modern life, however, the turban is useless. Even dangerous since September 11, 2001. Nobody abroad knows what a Sikh is. In case of doubt, they are mistaken for Muslims with suspicious containers on their heads. Sikhs see themselves as the disciples of God, in 1469 Guru Nanak Dev founded the religion, he renounced the caste system.

There was no more penance, no celibacy, no asceticism. He did not want to be a Hindu or a Muslim. That didn't help the American gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi. Four days after September 11th, he was shot dead in his Arizona gas station. The turban was his destiny. To the perpetrator, he looked like a Taliban.

But Jaswinder Singh does not hold the dangers of applying the turbo responsible for the loss; it is the loss of spirituality and the westernization of India, he says. Working mothers would no longer have time to teach their sons the art of turban tying.

The youth are more interested in the affairs of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty than in the wisdom of the ten Sikh gurus. The tradition has long been a nuisance. Gone are the days when Sikhs proudly proclaimed that they would rather lose their heads than that.

It is a fashionable tool that is difficult to convey, even if the color scheme is free. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for example, wears a light blue turban. But he's not exactly considered a style icon.

Now people like Jaswinder Singh are trying some kind of advertising campaign. In "Turbankliniken" young Sikhs are given tutoring, teachers teach kids with jeans hanging on their knees how to drape six meters of fabric around their heads. As it is a duty.

Because every Sikh is obliged to wear the "5 K": Kesh, the uncut hair, Kangha, the wooden comb, Kacha, the special cotton underpants, Kara, the steel bracelet and Kirpan, the dagger. And even more: In Delhi, a fashion agency advertises with Sikh models complete with turbans and beards. And the pop star Pammi Bai has sung a hymn on the turban - and has already sold more than 100,000 singles.

Good news also comes from afar. In Paris, after the ban on religious headgear in French schools, Sikhs took to the streets and proclaimed: "The turban is part of my body." This is exactly how Jaswinder Singh sees it.

(SZ from April 26, 2007)