The Sikh community has survived wars with the Mughals and then the British, the terrible bloodbath of the Partition, and then 1984 and its aftermath.
But according to a recent New York Times article, what is really weakening the defining symbol of Sikh community in India is just… well, laziness:
Like many young Sikhs, he found the turban a bother. It got in the way when he took judo classes. Washing his long hair was time-consuming, as was the morning ritual of winding seven yards of cloth around his head. It was hot and uncomfortable. (link)
The dwindling numbers of turban wearers reflects less a loss of spirituality than encroaching Westernization and the accelerating pace of Indian life, Jaswinder Singh said.
He puts the start of rapid decline at the mid-1990s, as India began liberalizing its economy, more people began traveling abroad and satellite television arrived in the villages of Punjab. Working mothers are too rushed to help their sons master the skill of wrapping a turban, he said, and increasingly they just shrug and let them cut their hair.
â€œEveryone is working harder to buy themselves bigger cars,â€ he said. â€œThey donâ€™t have time to teach their children about the Sikh heroes. Boys take film stars as their idols instead.â€ (link)
Anecdotally, talking to cousins and other relatives, I’ve had the same impression: young Sikhs in India see the turban and beard as 1) hot and 2) unfashionable. It’s also interesting in this passage that busy working mothers are cited as part of the problem. (Quick poll for the Sikhs reading this: who taught you how to tie your pagri? Many Sikh men I know were taught by women in their families.)
Though she does have quotes from people who are unhappy about the phenomenon, I must confess that on an emotional level I do find Amelia Gentleman’s article a shade too cheery considering how much anxiety this trend causes amongst traditional Sikhs. Indeed, as the defining symbol of the Sikh tradition declines, it’s hard not to think of the core of the religion as declining as well.
Oddly, one of the factors named here — India’s hot climate — is less of a factor in places like the U.S., the U.K., and Canada.