Dot from over at Ishbadiddle informs us of a new documentary titled, “Dastar: Defining Sikh Identity.” The Panthic Weekly reports:

Kevin LeeÂ’s documentary shows the struggle of the American-Sikh community to overcome the hatred, fear and intolerance it faces from fellow Americans due to its wearing of the essential symbol of the Sikh faith — the “dastaar” (turban), a press release by the Sikh Coalition stated.

The film also explores how media imagery fuels association of the turban with terrorism, leading to widespread discrimination against Sikhs. This documentary has already been screened in Chicago at the 2005 Asian American Showcase event and at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. It is scheduled to be screened in July at the AAIFF before being part of its national tour.

Dot points out that “the film features interviews with several people mentioned previously on SM, including Kevin Harrington the MTA subway operator, and footage of the guy who was sentenced to do community service at three Sikh temples after attacking a Sikh.”

You can view the entire film online by clicking one of the links below. If you live in NYC however I suggest instead that you view it at the 28th Annual Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) :


p> Small file .wmv


p> Large file .avi

18 thoughts on “Dastaar

  1. Growing up Sikh, I’ve faced a lot of different reactions to my faith. My father cut his hair when he came to the states. Partially because he faced some terrible descrimination but also because it’s his preference. Keeping your hair is definitely a part of tradition and it is a statement to your faith. Growing up in a liberal household where I listened to quwalli music and learnt about the bhakti and sufi movements, I was nonetheless raised as a sikh. For my family, religion is defined on axes of actions and community and not necessarily outward appearance. We wear kharas, go to gurdwara regularly and speak Punjabi. I’ve also been taught to not wear my religion on my sleeve, that my appearance is my deal and that I should be engaged in my own spirituality. That said, my father and brother encountered so much hostility after 9/11. My father has been attacked (yes, physically) before this. Neither he nor my brother wear the turban. Each of my family members has been specially searched each time we are at the airport. Perhaps because we have a last name that is also an Arab last name. It’s great to see how much people are enjoying bhangra. I love that my language is becoming mainstream. In some ways, I also see that overexposure can be bad too. It beats being the butt end of jokes in Hindi movies though. I just hope that we can break stereotypes and be acknowledged for what we have given India as a cutlure, a religion and a society. Besides brain-dead terrorists, that is.

  2. A very moving documentary. I agree that the Sikhs need about as much good PR as they can get and I think that they needn’t look too far. As much as I’d hate to be the one to suggest it, I think the best PR campaign that Sikhs in the US could get would be to have Vikram Chatwal getting it down with one of the Hilton sisters on “Mundian to bach ke rahein.” Quick, to the point and ‘hawt’ — definitely one for the dude nation. Everybody likes a hard partier!

  3. I feel strange discussing this out in the open…..having faced the trauma of 84 riots as a kid and having grown up in schools in UP in India to the constant joking about being a ‘sardar therefore pagal’,i thought i could never discuss these insecurities in a forum……there was a time that i had started hating myself for being a Sikh……talk about identity crisis….

    With due respect to the faith,I can feel and see millions of Sikh children go through the same insecurities and self-esteem issues that they dont deserve to and wonder if a)the religion shouldnt associate outwardly appearance as its ‘identity’(pretty radical I know but the most practical,I have studied the sikh religion myself and never and nowhere did the gurus imply unshorn hair and turban asa pre-requisite to being a Sikh) b)create awareness across the world about the faith…..I am put to shame by what the SGPC and Akal Takht etc are upto these days…..regressive,blinded-by-persecutory-delusions dimwits…..they dont even half 5% clue about what their religion actually is…..the initiative has to come within the community,what good is the so called enterprise and wealth when it cannot provide a safe and secure environment to the adherents……for example,has anybody given a thought to using England for the purpose?The UK establishment is not unfamiliar with Sikhs and Prince Charles himself is a big fan of the Sikh turban,so how about involving them in some kind of PR exercise…anybody thinking?

    I dont expect India as the mother nation to do much about it though….I mean,I am an Indian and thats my culture but you kinda become cynical when, 1.Your community is being flayed/burnt alive and the then PM very conveniently puts it down to a ‘big tree falling’ 2.Twenty years down the line the same people who engineered the brutalities are made ministers and stuff 3.Your whole town of 25,000 people(well,not whole,there were about 10-15 people who did not)are looking for ur dad so that they can burn him to show proof of their loyalty to their Indira mata. 3.The society sees nothing wrong/crass about cracking jokes about you/your religion incessantly and expecting you to be ‘a good sport’ about it….

    I am sorry about the long venting guys,I hate wearing the ‘help-me-I-am-a-victim’ tag and usually like to keep myself away from topics like India/religion/racism……its like Ghalib said,

    “Fikr-e-duniya me sar khapata hoon, mai kahan aur ye bawal kahan”

    (needlessly i worry about worldly issues, for i stand so far away from all this din)

  4. 1984 has given Sikhs raw nerves. A lot of the ultra-sensitivity of some Sikhs in India to perceived slights today comes as a result of certain facts pertaining to the horror of 1984 and the absolving of the monsters of 1984 within Indian society. That is something that Indian society should perpetually hold its head in shame for.

    However, at the moment India is led by Sikhs, not only the Prime Minister but the man in charge of protecting India and the head of the army are Sikhs. It hardly speaks of a people who take things lying down. In fact it speaks of a people who are ready to live up to their anointed status as ‘Sardars’ – leaders and chiefs.

    Having said that, I donÂ’t recognise the image of Sikhs abroad as neurotic and victims. No doubt about it, we are at the end of much violence and hatred whether we wear daastar or not. But Sikhs are pioneers, the first Indians to ever go to America, the first Indian-American to be elected to Washington was a Sikh, the history of the Sikh pioneers in California a hundred years ago is awe inspiring. In England Sikhs are ubiquitous and have created an amazingly vibrant and successful music scene. Panjabi MC and Jay Sean and Kray Twinz and all the dudes that make it big around the world are Sikh. ThatÂ’s just one example, but it doesnÂ’t speak of a cringing or self-pitying people, it speaks of a confident and outgoing people full of culture and music and chaardi-kala, people who go out and take the opportunities the world gives to us and donÂ’t lye down and grumble.

    Maybe things are different in England and America or Canada.

    Always remember what Guru Gobind Singh said about how each Sikh should strive to be as strong and brave and great as sawa lakh people. That applies in the West as much as it does in India. It makes Sikhs stick out and appear visible. It also makes us strong and achieves a profile and success in all fields out of proportion to our numbers. It also makes us targets for those who want somebody to hate.

    Sikhs don’t always do things right. Our ‘leaders’ are a bunch of fools, but no more so than Hindu or Muslim ‘leaders’.

    A Sikh who lives as though he is defeated is not a Sikh. Live as though every day is a chance to create glory and treat your life as a constant striving to be victorious. Every thing you do should feel like a victory. In America if there is a lot of bigotry towards us, remember too that there are a lot of Americans and fellow Indians who are our friends and love us too.

    Also do bhangra every morning, itÂ’s good for the cardio-thoracic system.

  5. For the last few days there has only been serious news and things. Please post something hilarious and provocative so I can flirt with DesiDancer and ANNA instead of giving lectures and being a headmaster. I need to relax.

  6. Manpriya and noFixedadderess,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. As a turbaned high school student in the US, IÂ’ve had more than my share of experiences with prejudice and discrimination. But the biggest slap in the face have been from fellow punjabi Hindu students who wanna get in with the goras by telling them the sardarji jokes (in my presence of course.) Interestingly, the indians in my school who always had my back are bengali and south indian!

  7. A man that can make it through life with a turban on his head and with complete confidence in his religion is, in my opinion, the sexiest type of man. (Random, I know)

  8. Quite moving. I applaud the sikhs for holding on to their culture/tradition in the face of such adversity. Had goose-bumps when they showed a multi-cultural crowd dancing the bhangra. Just fantastic.

    The troubling thing these attacks happened in probably the most cosmopolitan city in the world.

  9. noFixedadderess

    wonder if a)the religion shouldnt associate outwardly appearance as its ‘identity’(pretty radical I know but the most practical,I have studied the sikh religion myself and never and nowhere did the gurus imply unshorn hair and turban asa pre-requisite to being a Sikh)

    (simplified explanation) — When Guru Gobindji formed the Khalsa, he stipulated the five external symbols (kangha, kirpan, kaccha, kara, kesh) to his panch pyares. While Guru Nanakji gave the foundation and content to the Sikh religion, it was Guru Gobindji who externalized the religion with symbols and created a separate identity for the sikhs. It is arguable that the sikh religion would not have survived without this sort of externalization and identification. Messages and movements with similar messages (as Guru Nanakji) lost steam or were absorbed into larger religions (Hinduism, Islam). Ex. sufi movement in Islam (Kabir, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Fareed Skakarganj) and the Bhakti movement in Hinduism (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Mira Bai, Tukaram, Nam Dev, Vallabha Swami). The biggest threat to sikhs has always been the indirect absorption into hinduism. Without having to typing too much; let me say that in the past, periods of prosperity have led to moving of a signficant number of sikhs into hinduism. This is preceded by a loosening of external identity (usually by cutting hair). Ex., towards the end of the 19th century, sikhs dropped to below 9% of the total population in punjab leading to speculation that the religion would vanish and be absorbed as a variant of hinduism. I am not suggesting that this scheme of things should be continued or is good or bad, just trying to provide some context.

  10. I think the best PR campaign that Sikhs in the US could get would be to have Vikram Chatwal getting it down with one of the Hilton sisters on “Mundian to bach ke rahein.” Quick, to the point and ‘hawt’

    How about a Sikh Playboy Playmate?

    Me thinks – Its guys who attack sardarji’s here. They will feel competitive and resent a sardar getting it down with a gori.

    Therefore a sacrifice must be made; a buxom sardarni must be offered to placate the gora guys :-)

    What say Punjabi Boy?

  11. Aten -

    This former Penthouse Pet is of Sikh descent. I don’t think her baring her booty has done much for brown/Sikh civil rights.

  12. A man that can make it through life with a turban on his head and with complete confidence in his religion is, in my opinion, the sexiest type of man. (Random, I know)

    Word, Sonia.

  13. More info on where the documentary is being screened. Have a great weekend Mutineers! (is that a word?):

    *****”DASTAAR: Defending Sikh Identity” is hitting the festival circuit with great success. We had a good showing at the VC LA Asian American Film Fest, and several screenings are coming up:

    THIS SUNDAY at the Dallas Asian Short Film Festival (www.affd.org) – Dastaar is one of the finalists for Best Short Documentary. Tell everyone you know in Dallas to check it out and with enough support it might win! Venue details at http://www.affd.org.

    JUNE 15 at AFI/Discovery Channel Silverdocs Film Festival at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s up for an audience award so if you can make it please vote for it!

    JULY 21, 8:30PM – DASTAAR: DEFENDING SIKH IDENTITY to screen at New York Asian American International Film Festival, held at the Asia Society.

  14. Hi!

    I love reading this site. I was just reading a few bits from people here, and wanted to add my comments. My hubby is Sikh, and I remember when we met – we met thru his friend, and they were afraid at first that I’d be like many and chide them. Instead, I welcomed he, his friend, and all their friends, Sikh or not with open arms. My only gripe is that he doesn’t wear his turban except for special occasions. He retains his beard/mustache, long hair, and wears his Kara, but I’m always begging he wear his turban. ;) We are always looking after each other – he’s been there for me when I had gone thru some terrible family issues, and when people harrass him, I give them a few mouthfuls of old country lip. ( I am part british, and part middle european gypsy). Needless to say, I’m proud of my husband, who he is, who he represents, and I’m not only willing to stick up for those who are Sikh, but would love to do all I could to change society’s perceptions of Sikhs, Indian, and anyone else who suffers from such ignorance. I also want to add that for anyone who afraid to show pride for their religion, their culture, or anything else, because of harrassment – show them up by NOT letting them get to you…show who you are, and let that be your guide. My husband tells me how he’s proud because I don’t hide my gypsy heritage – one which has gotten much harrassment over many centuries, but I use it as an example to others to believe in themselves, and stand up to those who try to put them down. I had to tell a few people how THEY were in fact the terrorists, because they had called my hubby a terrorist without knowing anything more than what they saw. Those who have to harrass so ignorantly are the TRUE terrorists. ‘noFixedadderess’, I hope that you can finally be proud of yourself for being Sikh, and know that there’s one ‘American’ pulling for ya, and for anyone who feels the way you did. I also think that some PR for the Sikhs would be wonderful, but it must be the RIGHT kind…..the hilton sister s are nothing to be proud of. They’re nothing more than pigs who get FAR more atention than they should, and have no place in promoting the virtues and values held by Sikhs. Their antics are not only old, disgusting, and boring, but make an outright mockery of the values Sikhs hold. Rabbi Sergill is a far better example for PR, and should be given proper recognition here. What is needed is for non-Sikhs, especially those who are not Indian, and usually hurl their tortures – their crude remarks and nasty jokes at them due to lack of willingness to learn of the culture(s) to be be exposed by those true virtues, values, etc. One cannot make people more open minded by using those who help stereotype them. I had grown up with Indian food festivals, and learned about the culture right along with my own Polish, Hungarian, Slovack, and British roots, and as I grew up, I came to regaurd Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and any other cultures just as my own. I also later found out that I had some Indian and Asian roots in my heritage I didn’t know about, which makes me TWICE as proud. ;) I also hope to be learning more about all cultures, including Indian, and esepcially (but most definately not limited to Sikh). And if there’s any who are reading this who have been harrassed, esepcially Sikhs, you may definately email me, and I’d be glad to be friends. Maybe we could finally open the world’s mind towards other people with proper examples and stop the stupidity. ;)


  15. Just so you know, the filmmaker of “Dastaar: Defending Sikh Identity” is trying to raise funds to complete a feature-length film about Sikhs. He has been selling copies of the short film Dastaar (the same one that is posted on the SM website for free–so he’s raising awareness, but not funds!)for a suggested donation of $25. If anyone would like to donate, or raise funds for his upcoming film please log on to his website at http://www.alsolikelife.com/

    I met him at a film festival and found out about his upcoming work.

    He is really doing a service to the community by making these films, and will be able to continue to do so as long as he has the funding! Be generous!

  16. If any sikhs feel descriminated against or fear to wear your turban, you have forgotten who you are. Remember:”You are the sikh of the Guru, the repretation of the Guru is shown by the acts and deeds of the sikh”.

    After reading this, do something for yourself. Dress yourself smartly and stand up tall infront of the mirror but do not see yourself…see Guru Gobind stand before you. The Guru’s Pride and courage lies within you and the soul of the Gurus will always be a part of you.