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A Sikh's Cost of Fitting In: Lopping Off Long Hair

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Archived_Member16, May 19, 2009.

  1. Archived_Member16

    Archived_Member16
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    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 lie 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 am very proud of my Sikh heritage and I never got my hair cut before ... but there were reasons. I had to cut my hair."

    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.

    "Parents in the community often approach me, saying their son is insisting on cutting his hair," said Pardeep Singh Nagra, manager of employment equity with the Toronto District School Board, who is well known in the Sikh community.

    "I try to play the role of the mediator," said Nagra, who keeps his hair long and wears a turban.

    Nagra says both sides can be heartbroken, but adamant – the son believes the parents don't understand him, while parents are torn with his decision.

    Nagra tries to help young people understand their religious heritage and the importance of practising their faith. "I tell them if they think life is tough (because of the turban), there may be something even tougher out there later on," he said.

    Nagra also explains to the youths that their parents feel they've failed when children don't adopt religious traditions. But in the end, he says, the objective is to support the child.

    "Although alienation, harassment and racism begin at the elementary school level, Sikh boys are in Grade 7 or 8 when their pain comes to the forefront," he said. "I think parents need to better help them navigate the discrimination by engaging their children at a younger age, and the Sikh community needs to be more proactive to engage the wider community and schools to be more attentive to these issues."

    Some parents are open to discussing the turban's significance.

    The topic was talked threadbare at Sandeep Chahal's Brampton home before his parents agreed.

    The first-year engineering student at McMaster University in Hamilton says it was important for him to have their consent.

    Eight months ago, Chahal, 18, got his waist-length hair cropped close to the scalp.
    Chahal still feels strange without a colourful turban, but says he wanted to fit in. "I can't recall a particular incident where ... I felt like I didn't belong. But I obviously stood out."
    But not everyone minds that.

    Jashandeep Singh, 18, a commerce student and Chahal's roommate at McMaster, wears a turban. "I have my moments when I want to get (a haircut) but I'm religious and I also realize how important this is for me," said Singh, whose family lives in Brampton.
    He is often asked about it by curious strangers. "I explain as best I can why it's important," he said.

    The dwindling number of turban-wearers bothers Nagra, but working with young people, he understands the pressures they face.

    Not everyone does.

    When a 19-year-old York university student, who doesn't want to be named, was younger, he told his parents he wanted to cut his hair. His father beat him with a belt, he wrote in an email to the Star. But tired of continuing harassment at school – he was called names and even beaten up – he got his hair cut.

    "And as a result, I was thrown out of the house and disowned."

    His parents have not contacted him since. "I still don't know if my parents remember me or think about me," said the student. "But then again, they were right on their part and I was on mine."

    Sikh fathers say their sons make them proud when they wear the turban. "Of course," said Bhupinder Singh, Charanbir's father.

    "But I can't disown him if he doesn't," he added in Punjabi.

    When Charanbir first said he wanted to cut his hair, his father took him aside and asked if he was having trouble at school.

    "He said no, but I knew there was more to it." Singh explained the significance of the turban and hoped for the best.

    Months later, when his son shut himself in the washroom and cut his hair, Singh said he wasn't angry. "I was just very, very sad. I tried to understand (him). I didn't go to school in Canada so I don't know how tough it can be ... But I do wish he still wore the turban."
    Stories like these are common, says Birinder Ahluwalia, owner of BSA Diagnostics Clinics in Scarborough and North York.

    "It's an awful feeling," said Ahluwalia, who wore a turban when he immigrated to Canada in 1985. But within the year, he decided to cut his hair. "No, I didn't feel any racism, but (I) got strange looks of surprise from people."

    Telling his father in India about the decision was difficult, said Ahluwalia, 53. "When I told him, he was quiet for about 30 seconds. It felt like the longest time," he said.
    Ahluwalia felt awful for a long time after having his hair cut. Now, 24 years later, he is thinking of growing his hair and wearing a turban.

    "It's one of those things you never truly get over," he said.
     
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  3. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Sikhs now have to accept that because of discrimination in many places all over the world and even within the community by sikh girls.A large majority of Youths are not going to wear turban or keep uncut hair.

    The question now is what on political front when govtrnments of different countries will ask for defination
    of sikh what will sikh leaders do.If they will say that these people are not sikhs then large majority of sikhs
    will become non sikhs and could leave sikhism on the other hand if they will say that these are sehajdhari sikhs then chances are exemptions given to sikhs to wear turbans or keep beards in many parts of world will be removed.
     
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  4. Gyani Jarnail Singh

    Gyani Jarnail Singh Malaysia
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    When I migraeted to malaya in 1950..i was one year old...and when i went to the local Catholic Church Kindergarten...I was the ONLY ONE with a JOORRA....i faced absolutley NO PROBLEMS..id crisis, fitting in..whatever....ALL the others were chinese/madrassis tamils. malays and all ghonas...
    Through out my school...no one bothered me about my long hair..turban....and all my children also went through the same school system..under the same conditions...except that they now had swimming classes and all....still the hair dastaar posed no problems...no one had to "fit IN"...
    IMHO ALL THIS IS UTTER RUBBISH....harsh words..i admit...but I feel all these are excuses for personal fialures...
    From as young as 2 or so..i was fed a strong diet of "Sikh History/shaheeds/sahibzadahs...our ardass..our Gurus...our Gurbani....and alwasy i wondered..IF ever push comes to shove..can I...stand up to my RELIGION/FAITH as well as the FIVE YEAR OLD ZORAWAR SINGH ?? It NEVER came to that..I didnt have to even cut my little finger...much less stand inside a wall to be bricked up alive !!or have my joints cut one by one like Bhai mani Singh or get sawed alive like Bhai Mati Dass !!

    The BITTER TRUTH..the UNPALATABLE TRUTH is thta the SIKHS..Parents, the Gyanis, the ragis, the SGPCs the Gurdwaras..ALL have FAILED the YOUNGER GENERATION. A so callaed "SIKH" who cant even spell the name of GURU NANAK....HOW can he be facing suhc "trials and tribulations" such as described in the article....He DOESNT KNOW JILCH about SIKHI/GURMATT/HAIR...whay should he feel anything special about it ?? OF course he will feel it a BURDEN..and want to get rid of it asap....why balme him..BLAME the PARENTS..the Gurdwaras..the SIKH SOCIETY.

    MY children can DEBATE for a few SOLID HOURS on Gurbani/gurmatt/sikh history....many Sikhs i know cant even spell the name of the First Sikh GURU ?? How are they SIKHS ?? joking ?? What is a SIKH ?? WHY should such a "SIKH" have any feelings for his hair ?? WHY ?? what purpose ??
    And to top it all we have so called "Academics..pseudo scholars who having mastered the art of Googling GURBANI..or searching through Gurbani Sites...and reading the superficial translations etc by equally ignorant writers...go on a crusade about how the SGGS SUPPORTS cutting hair..etc etc...SIMPLY because they and their children FAILED to keep Dastaars....and now want justification through Gurbani...

    Todays children want LOGICAL ANSWERS..not myths..and Follow what i say..do what i say...why should my son ridfe a bicycle to school simply because I DID IT...he has Daddys Car....parked in the Garage....and wants to DRIVE...BUT IF he is "shown" the way...PAY for the PETROL !! Pay for the maintenance...VIOLA..he suddenly FINDS the Bicycle is COOL....

    Sikhism is the most logical modern religion..STOP making it into a mytholigical outdated version dished out by the sants babas with their tall tales and sakhis...TELL the TRUTH as told by the GURUS..and every sikh child will gladly follow despite the odds....DONT..and no body will want hair or dastaar !! what ever FOR ??:yes::yes::yes::yes::yes:
     
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  5. ranghi29

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    i completly agree with you Gyani ji. I am only 14 living in US i had a hair cut before but then kept my hair after learning about the history of our guru and shaheeds, what really inspired me to come under Sikhi was the event in 1984 and Sant Jarnail Singh Khalsa. I have faced problems in scholl but i take my time to explain to people my i wear a Dastaar and now i can say that i face absoltuly no problems.The kids that say they are begin picked on at school are faliers.
     
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  6. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    ranghi29

    At the age of 14, you have wisdom 5 times your age and greater than most of the people that I know. Please contribute to the threads here on SPN frequently. We will benefit from your insights. You are already an inspiring young man.
     
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  7. Gyani Jarnail Singh

    Gyani Jarnail Singh Malaysia
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    YES Rangh29 Ji..you are MY MAN. I mean it.

    Bad workmen always blame their TOOLS....failed Sikhs always blame the...environment..the neighbours..the peers at school at work..EVERYTHING except their OWN WEAKNESS.
    But that is still OK....what are the worst ones are those who try and hide their weakness..by misquoting Gurbani from SGGS...and try and hoodwink us that SGGS supports them...and so its A-OK to cut hair, throw away the dastaar, the 5 kakars.....etc etc etc..whatever they do is OK...
     
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