A Rather Cheery Article in the NYT on the Decline of Sikh Turbans

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)

And:

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.

“Everyone is working harder to buy themselves bigger cars,” he said. “They don’t have time to teach their children about the Sikh heroes. Boys take film stars as their idols instead.” (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.

185 thoughts on “A Rather Cheery Article in the NYT on the Decline of Sikh Turbans

  1. DEAR GOD! If I wasn’t waiting to sober up I’d have a better response, but really dude, WTF?

    Why is it so hard to understand that some of us dont really care as much as apparently you do about fetuses and are not that bothered by abortion.

    Are you saying that California (or other places in the West, for that matter) do NOT have a problem with Punjabis aborting female fetuses? Because indeed they do.

    Yes though I am willing to change my opinion if presented with credible evidence which contradicts my opinion.

  2. Sonia is right about California having a gender problem with Punjabi’s aborting female fetus. But it is even worse in Canada, especially in the punjabi community in Vancouver.

    MoorNam some of these punjabi women have been threatened if they don’t abort there female fetus.

    Another problem is that alot of women and feminist groups in the west are useless when it comes to issues like this. Due to Polictical Correctness, stupid white guilt and the fear of being called racist they are afraid to speak out about issue like this.

  3. But babies do have responsibilities, and most(99.99%) of them carry their responsibilities effortlessly. Their responsibility is to do something that even the best movie actors cannot do: Giggle, smile guiltlessly, squeal with pleasure at parents’ sight, gaze with deep wonder at the TV remote, etc etc. It’s their responsibility to bring out the child in you.

    You completely destroy your own argument with stuff like this.

  4. It’s not the foetus’s rights I was talking about, but the mother’s – you people are seriously OK with her husband and in-laws forcing her to abort a child she would like to carry to term? Does she not matter as a person, the foetus has to be discussed as having rights before she does? In endless reports about female foeticide the mother is described as being very reluctant and pressured by her husband. Do you have any idea what it must be like to be a young woman with intense social pressure to stay with and please your husband and his family by producing a son, very little financial independence, the knowledge that your family and social milieu may well reject you for not being the Good Wife, and taken by your husband and in-laws to have an abortion? “There are laws against it” – of all the naive things to say.

  5. Well played, MoorNam :)

    But if we extend that argument, aren’t we forced to include the promise of future, the promise of the giggles and squeals that these unborn children hold within them? Fetuses kick and make their presence felt to the mother. They have the same responsibilities as giggling children, in that case. They provide unalloyed joy and hope for the parents, and their grandparents. In that case, surely, they should too be endowed with rights.

    Note that I am not rabidly pro-life like the Christian-right. But in this case, the parents want the child were it not for social bullies, the fetus wants to be born (naturally) and the only people who don’t want the female child are random village idiots. Killing a baby to “fit-in” better with the Joneses cannot be ethically condoned at all.

    As to your second point,

    Since the begining of time, man has had the legal right to kill off their baby (until about a century ago). Yet, only a miniscule portion of parents choose to do so (even when there is religious sanction for it).

    Rights and laws are not quite the same thing. Rights are a matter of ethics, laws are a matter of governance. It was legal to own slaves in this country till about a century ago. I am sure you agree that they had no right to do so.

  6. It’s not the foetus’s rights I was talking about, but the mother’s – you people are seriously OK with her husband and in-laws forcing her to abort a child she would like to carry to term?

    No, I am not and no one is saying that (I am not anyway) so please dont give birth to strawman just so you can then abort them mercilessly :)

  7. you people are seriously OK with her husband and in-laws forcing her to abort a child she would like to carry to term?

    “Forcing”, “Coerced” etc are all loaded words. Please see earlier responses.

    She can do whatever she wants on her own terms. She can run away to another town. Live hand to mouth and feed her child. Pay the right price for the right to give birth.

    What you seem to be saying is: The husband and in-laws should accept her desire to have the girl-child, pay for child birth, education, wedding etc etc.

    I say, nonsense. Nobody has to accept anything on others’ terms. Husband/In-laws have the right to reject her for carrying a female fetus. You cannot legislate away desire to have male offspring.

    I am only concerned with everyone’s individual rights. Much as I disagree with husbands/in-laws who don’t want to have the girl-child, I will fight to defend their right to do so. Just as I will fight to defend the pregnant woman to leave the house and care for the child on her own.

    M. Nam

  8. Read my post numer 88 – I explicitly referred to women’s rights with regard to both forced foeticide and dowry but somehow the rest of you saw the matter of rights as only relevant to the foetus. The lack of attention to the point of women’s rights is telling. It’s not a bloody straw man, it’s important.

  9. MoorNam, you seem to live in your own idealised little conservative universe, rather far removed from reality, and with the burden of responsibility 100% on those who are weaker and complete protection for everyone else. I don’t know what to say to someone who thinks like that, only perhaps that it might do you good to live a few years in a context where these issues are real and not theoretical.

  10. SP: #109

    Once a person starts pulling at emotional strings instead of logical debate, there’s nothing much to be said.

    M. Nam

  11. 101 · Al_Mujahid_for_debauchery on March 30, 2007 03:20 PM · Direct link Are you saying that California (or other places in the West, for that matter) do NOT have a problem with Punjabis aborting female fetuses? Because indeed they do. Yes though I am willing to change my opinion if presented with credible evidence which contradicts my opinion.

    Sex Selection Alive and Well in South Asian Immigrant Communities in the U.S.

    News Feature, Sunita Puri, India Currents, Mar 17, 2006

    The woman lying on the examination table is clearly nervous. She has a look of troubled anticipation, brows deeply furrowed, lips pursed and pale, and forehead glistening with tiny beads of sweat. She takes a deep breath, and grasps her dupatta with moist hands, while mouthing prayers into the off-white wall.

    “It’s a girl.�

    I watch the woman’s blank expression, and catch the look of frustration on her husband’s face in the corner of my eye. Seconds later, she begins to cry.

    As a medical student I first became interested in the issue of sex selection upon talking with South Asian women who told me they were abused or neglected by their husbands and extended family because they had given birth to girls. I was surprised to learn that such pressure to have boys exist even within immigrant South Asian communities in the United States. A number of factors have converged to actually enable this practice: easy access to routine ultrasounds (forbidden in India), the availability of abortion services, and the American fertility industry, which offers everything from preconception sex selection to at-home gender determination kits. Ads for sex-selection clinics have appeared in South Asian community papers and even The New York Times.

    I thus decided to do a research project on sex selection and the reasons for its prevalence among both South Asian immigrants and non-South Asians in the United States. This research is formally intended for the master’s thesis required for my medical degree, but I also wanted to do this project to promote dialogue about a preference for sons and its impact on the lives of women and children. Any quotes and locations have been changed to protect the identities of my research subjects.

    When I first began my project, I was extremely wary. I had seen that newspaper articles about the skewed gender ratio in India often make the front page, yet offer little insight into the reasons for sex selection, or the pressures and emotions involved in such decisions. I did not want to further stereotypes about the preference for sons among South Asians. I wanted to understand what drives women to seek three or more abortions in their quest for a male child. I wanted to know how the desire for a son, and not wanting any more daughters, affected a couple’s existing children. I wanted to understand how medical providers felt about offering sex selection services or simply early sex determination via ultrasound. And, I wanted to understand why this practice was occurring in the United States among South Asian immigrants.

    “In this country?� is the incredulous response I most often hear when I discuss some of the trends I’ve observed. Yet my own surprise has lessened as I’ve researched the reasons behind son preference. Religious and cultural festivals are not the only practices that survive the processes of immigration: the ultrasound machine has retained its iconic status among some South Asian immigrants in this country. When I ask women why they want a son, they often expect that I should know and understand that this is “an expectation of women,� as one woman put it.

    Yet, what draws couples to travel across the state and sometimes to other states to get an ultrasound scan? What motivates them to spend thousands of dollars to select fetal sex before conception? Surprisingly, it is often women themselves who firmly believe that they need to have a son. The couples visiting these clinics usually already have at least one daughter—I have never seen a couple try and select the sex of their first child. When I ask why, they often tell me, simply, that every mother has a right to a son. Sometimes, their stories are heartbreaking: their female in-laws taunt them, call them infertile, drive them to it. It is sometimes their own mothers or mothers-in-law who pressure them to have a boy. In other instances, the tension between the couple in clinic is palpable, and I wonder about the pressures women face from their husbands at home.

    It is undoubtedly difficult for couples to speak with me about their most personal and intimate matters. Yet they patiently answered my questions, allowed me to sit in on their clinic visits, and afforded me glimpses into their emotional experiences. Many are deeply conflicted, and openly acknowledge the tension in being a woman and not wanting a daughter. Some do not want to have a girl because they want to prevent another woman from suffering as they have. Some hope that the newer technologies of sperm sorting will actually decrease their emotional suffering by avoiding an abortion.

    A crucial question arising from this work is, what does this practice do to our daughters? Children are usually overlooked in the debate about sex selection, yet they are among the most immediately affected. Children who witness parents’ ongoing attempts to have a son are impacted emotionally and materially. A South Asian American student told me in an interview, “Do these parents think we don’t know what they’re up to? Of course we do. It’s no mistake that all the families I know have, like, four girls and the youngest is a boy. It’s obvious to us even if we don’t say anything. Because what can we really say?�

    One could argue, as many physicians have, that patient autonomy and the concept of choice makes sex selection permissible if patients believe it is the best option for their family. However, it is not entirely clear whose choice it is. If a woman faces intense pressure, psychological or otherwise, to have a son, is she really exercising her choice? If she is harassed, threatened, or emotionally abused, is she free to seek or not seek sex determination or sex-selection services?

    The real issue is not necessarily sex selection per se, but what sex selection signifies—the unequal status of women. While many couples say they need to have a son since they already have daughters, many do not know how to answer me when I ask if they would seek a daughter if they had only sons. Technology or physicians alone are not at the root of the problem. The use of technology and marketing of sex selection exist because of the preference for a male child. Technological advancement undoubtedly increases the pressure to use technology in order to have a boy. One woman told me, “Now that all these methods exist, if I don’t use them, my in-laws will harass me.� While I understand the role that technology plays in making this issue worse, ultimately it is the deep-seated preference for boys that we must question and challenge. For instance, why is it that some couples believe they have “too many daughters,� but we rarely hear complaints about “too many sons�?

    We must acknowledge the societal pressures to have a son rather than condemn couples who succumb to them. Judgment and blame will only thicken the shroud of secrecy surrounding these practices, making it even harder to talk about it. Family planning decisions are naturally complex and emotional, but in this instance they can be influenced by expectations from family and community that result in unusual pressure and harm to both women and children.

    How can the family and community provide a more positive influence? We can take steps towards change in small ways. For example, we can congratulate couples equally when sons and daughters are born. We can organize small meetings about creating more opportunities for women’s advancement, and more days to celebrate women’s many accomplishments. We can hold debates about the role and status of women, making space for women to talk about the ways they have experienced gender inequality. We can remind our daughters every day that they are equal to their brothers in every way.

    When I look around me, I see strong, brilliant, beautiful South Asian daughters committed to improving the world around them. Our women are teachers, world-class athletes, artists, musicians, writers, activists, doctors, lawyers, models, actresses, mothers, daughters, and sisters. Let us celebrate our daughters, and all the women of our community, and take active steps towards achieving equality of women and men, daughters and sons. Sunita Puri is a second-year medical student at the UC San Francisco-UC Berkeley joint medical program. She is currently conducting an ethnographic study of son preference and sex selection among South Asian immigrants in the United States.

    see the article at http://news.pacificnews.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=77ccb8095412ea46e40184e503787025

    more info to come…

  12. Thank God Moornam doesn’t have any actual influence on things. Actually, some of you guys should also probably be thankful (for different reasons of course) that I don’t have much influence on things either…if I did, you wouldn’t recognize India by the time I was done. Of course, I think it would be a much better place.

  13. Amitabh,

    Did not expect a personal attack from you.

    Sonia,

    You seem to think that female sex selection is wrong because it violates the rights of women. Fine.

    As you may know, the sex of the foetus is determined by the male(sperm). What if in the future, medicine companies produce a $2/- pill which a man can take to kill off all his female sperm? Would you ban that too the way you seem to think that sex-selection tests should be banned? What would it do to the rights of the man? Does his sperm have more rights than him?

    Where do you stop with intrusion into personal lives?

    M. Nam

  14. Did not expect a personal attack from you.

    Sorry…you’re right. I disagreed with your statements about rights/responsibilities but I could have expressed it much better. I do always try to avoid any personal comments but I slipped up this time. My apologies again. I do however think you are being too rigid and your views appear heartless to me. Peace.

  15. Although, Moornam, and I don’t think this is a personal attack, I am happy that your views are not widespread and are not in legislative effect.

  16. ShallowThinker on March 29, 2007 09:57 PM · Direct link Sikhism is a religion with few answer’s. Ask 10 Sikh’s about what happen’s to your soul when you die and you will get 10 different answer’s. Ask about eating meat, you get 10 different answer’s. Ask about how you are supposed to eat in a Gurdwara and you will get 10 different answer’s. Ask about wedding ritual’s and ….you get the picture.

    Sonia said: Hmm, as opposed to what – Hinduism? Catholicism? Where there is only one answer? Come on now – you can do better than that reasoning.

    Ask a Catholic what happen’s when you die? The answer is simple. Hell, they even have a guy who make’s all the rule’s for them,I think he is called the Pope or something

    Hinduism is more complex and from my interaction’s with most hindu’s, they are confused as well.

    Both Sikhism and Hinduism are to complex for the everyday person to really understand. Last time I checked Hinduism and Sikhism arent exactly stealing away Catholic’s and Muslim’s on a everyday bases. Unless you count Yoga, which is very popular, but more for exercise and I am sure that most people who do it think some fitness model came up with it.

    The simplest answer is usually the correst one. No need to bring in a mathmaticican and use his expertise in game theory and algorithms to crack this case. Getting up at 4 in the morning to get ready for the rode by 6 in the morning isnt a life style that most people desire.

    People have to study, work, deal with their hormone’s, socialize, play sports, do taxes, and whatever else. Most people cant handle anything else.

    To quote that line from The Shashank Redemption, “The world got itself in a big damn hurry”, and sadly the turban slow’s alot of people down.

    Those that can handle it are incredible, but from our interaction’s with people everyday we know that most people are not incredible.

  17. I have also noticed that as people get older and their life has slowed down and in many cases when they have gone bald, they all of the sudden start wearing a turban. So maybe less young people are wearing it, but as they get older and all the kid’s are married off, they to will start wearing one.

  18. Guys, we’re getting quite negative on a lot of these comments. There also seems to be a bit of a deadlock over the whole female foeticide issue, which is starting to go around in circles.

    In a few hours we’ll probably shut this thread down.

  19. Last time I checked Hinduism and Sikhism arent exactly stealing away Catholic’s and Muslim’s on a everyday bases

    But that is not in Hinduism or Sikhisms nature to prosletyse or ‘steal’ Catholics and Muslims. Whatever their faults, that is not what they are geared towards, or believe in.

  20. 114 · MoorNam on March 30, 2007 06:14 PM · Direct link Sonia, You seem to think that female sex selection is wrong because it violates the rights of women. Fine. As you may know, the sex of the foetus is determined by the male(sperm). What if in the future, medicine companies produce a $2/- pill which a man can take to kill off all his female sperm? Would you ban that too the way you seem to think that sex-selection tests should be banned? What would it do to the rights of the man? Does his sperm have more rights than him? Where do you stop with intrusion into personal lives? M. Nam

    M. Nam,

    Go back through my comments and find the one where I wrote that I think sex-selection tests should be banned. Can’t find it, huh? Stop assuming things. Legislating things is an iffy issue because sometimes it just makes the problem worse.

    People can do whatever the hell they want. We can’t stop a woman from aborting her female fetus or a man from beating his wife for giving birth to a girl. BUT THAT DOES NOT MAKE IT OKAY. Furthermore, this has implications for the rest of us, not just them. It does nothing more but perpetuate the sexism and misogyny that permeates the Punjabi culture.

    If someone wanted to go around committing hate crimes against South Asians because in his/her “personal life” he/she believed it was okay and truly hated desis, what should be the course of action? Let him/her go around killing people or do something about the attitudes that are prompting it?

    119 · SM Intern #5 on March 30, 2007 07:00 PM · Direct link Guys, we’re getting quite negative on a lot of these comments. There also seems to be a bit of a deadlock over the whole female foeticide issue, which is starting to go around in circles. In a few hours we’ll probably shut this thread down.

    SM Intern #5, not all of us are “guys.” I sure am not.

  21. Let’s talk about turbans, shall we, before the thread gets shut down.

    Shallow Thinker – I agree it takes time to tie a good turban – on the other hand, that’s exactly what practice does for you – reduces the time you need. Another solution is to find a simpler style to wear. Also agree about people tying turbans when they start to go bald – that also increases the chances for men to start wearing caps regularly – across cultures. Turbans are also suggested for hair loss arising from chemotherapy. And SP – ready-to-wear turbans already exist, but I can’t see myself wearing one!

    This Baisakhi Day, April 13, is International Sikh Turban Day. Two interesting ways of popularizing turbans: Link and Link. Read about it here and here.

  22. And incidentally, her own son is pretty much a failure in life and me, her daughter, is the one all her hopes are pinned on.

    I know you are trying to make a point on how unfair it is, but this seems a little callous

  23. ^^^ Just trying to give an example that I can speak about to show that the son preference is not only sexist and misogynistic, but pointless as well. I see more Punjabi families where the daughters are the ones taking care of their parents in their old age, not the sons.

  24. Cool, I was actually going to write to take back my comment anyway, as I think it makes sense in the context of what you said

  25. The mindset is there – it exists, and we can’t deny it or just criticize it. We have to work, instead, to change the mindset and the trend. I’m the oldest grandchild on my father’s side, and I was told that when I was born, my dadi (grandmother) had tears in her eyes – she had hoped for and been expecting my mother to have a boy. It was hard for me to hear, especially because my entire life, having the relationship I’ve had and still have with my dadi, I couldn’t possibly imagine it. I do realize that things were different then – but whether I knew it or not, I was the one who made her happy to have a granddaughter. Gotta teach them. I was at my uncle’s brother’s wedding in Ludhiana, Punjab. My uncle and aunt have 3 intelligent, athletic, beautiful girls. The hijray came around the wedding house and were asking him how many kids he had (so they could offer him blessings for sons) – he said he was happy with his 3 girls and couldn’t ask for anything more. Everyone was like “Eh?? But of course you still want a son, though, right??” They just didn’t understand why. It made me feel good to see him be proud of his girls and not succumb to peer pressure and let them make him feel like something was lacking because out of his 3 children he didn’t have a boy. Don’t get me wrong – boys are great. I love them. But when I have children, I’ll have what I’m meant to have, and I’ll be happy with that.

    To be honest, as a younger guy, you are pretty unaware of most of this stuff, and I think its only at a later time that you become aware of some of it. At a certain point, it just seems like its all fun, music, and ladoo, and these other issues only seem to be hinted

  26. Fine, Moornam, I’ll just leave you to your sappy smiles at gurgling boy babies bullied out of some non-superwoman. You really are too funny and self-contradictory to be taken very seriously.

    Sonia, I often wonder what it will take for the mentality to change. You see so many women who are taking care of their parents while the sons basically get the property out of them and run off, and young women who come to work in the city and send money back home to their parents.

    Turbans, turbans – can anyone think of a TV or film hero in this generation who was Sikh and had a turban? Do Sikh sex symbols just not sell? Because if they did, I don’t think we’d be hearing so much about how hard it is to tie a turban. Thoughts?

  27. Yes I wonder what it will take too, but I hate how people just say “Well that’s the culture, we can’t change things.” We can change how WE think, and that’s a start. I honestly just wish Punjabis would stop caring so damn much what other people think of them. I know it’s a collectivist culture and all but damn.

  28. A propos of changing gender roles, the National Sample Survey’s figures on male and female employment outside the home suggest that the last 10 years have seen a huge surge in women going out to work.

    It occurred to me re: Sikh hotties that the only Sikh media stars I can think of are Daler Mehndi and Rabbi Shergill and a couple of other characters on music channels. Not exactly uber sex symbols but they do exist.

  29. 101 · Al_Mujahid_for_debauchery on March 30, 2007 03:20 PM · Direct link Are you saying that California (or other places in the West, for that matter) do NOT have a problem with Punjabis aborting female fetuses? Because indeed they do. Yes though I am willing to change my opinion if presented with credible evidence which contradicts my opinion.

    Also check out these ads that have appeared in newspapers here

    Ajit Weekly: http://www.jakara.org/images/ajit_1.jpg

    Hamdard: http://www.jakara.org/images/hamdard_1.jpg

    hmm…wonder why a doctor named John Stephens (obviously a gora) would bother making the effort to specifically advertise to the Punjabi population and get it written in Gurmukhi for all the fobs to read

  30. Wow, what a thread. I’m glad it’s calmed down, for now.

    Here’s a less “cheery” and more pointed article about the phenomena. It’s author states that the “no turban” trend in India is divided among caste lines, an argument I had not heard before:

    Clearly, the situation has gone beyond hair-splitting as rural Punjab’s tryst with the barber keeps growing. The land-owning Jat Sikhs have all but shed the turban, whereas the more conservative trading ‘Khatri Sikhs’ in urban areas are less inclined towards the new trend. One reason is that most of the Sikh gurus were ‘Khatris’ or from the trading community which is why this section of Sikhs are more staunch believers. But go to rural Punjab and there are some tell-tale indicators of change. Where earlier, the sole barber in a village had to supplement his income by selling sweetmeats, now, most villages have three to four barbers. The feisty land-owning Punjabi Jat farmer has always been known for his enterprise and desire to try new things. True to form, it is he who is leading the ‘no turban’ trend even though it makes him an apostate in the eyes of his religion.

    Anyone care to comment about this? I know very little about this issue to give any useful commentary, but find it interesting nonetheless.

    When I went to Amritsar last year, they had a Mr. Sikh pageant. I remember asking my cousin about it who said that Sikh groups in the city were trying to promote the preservation of the turban and sikh values through the contest. I thought it was an interesting way to help people relate to their turbans as the mainstream and as handsome. There were some serious hotties on the billboard they showed.

    Here’s an article about the Mr. Sikh India Pageant, with epic pic.

    It occurred to me re: Sikh hotties that the only Sikh media stars I can think of are Daler Mehndi and Rabbi Shergill and a couple of other characters on music channels. Not exactly uber sex symbols but they do exist.

    SP, check out post #1 by Saira. Ahluwalia may be not be a household name, but he’s been in some big movies, (Inside Man, The Life Aquatic) magazine shoots, and has a jewelry line out.

    Guys, we’re getting quite negative on a lot of these comments. There also seems to be a bit of a deadlock over the whole female foeticide issue, which is starting to go around in circles. In a few hours we’ll probably shut this thread down.

    Please, not before Shri Spoorlam makes an appearance! I need to hear about how Vedic babies gurgle and coo at a 3.5% cuter level than those infidel Abrahamic uterine dumplings! I want to know how many more babies Hindu women should be making so we won’t be swamped by Muslims procreating like halal rabbits!

  31. Hm, Ahluwalia is OK but not as hot as Rabbi. The Mr Singh pagaent photo is PRICELESS.

    The theory about barbers looking for work => more mona sikhs is not convincing IMO.

  32. The theory about barbers looking for work => more mona sikhs is not convincing IMO.

    The theory in that article is that it’s disproportionately Jat Sikhs abandoning the turban.

  33. Whoops – I read that wrong. Sorry. Are Jat sikhs more likely to be urban or live among non-sikhs too?

  34. Are Jat sikhs more likely to be urban or live among non-sikhs too?

    Not in India. The article makes clear they are more likely to be rural. In the rural areas, losing the kesh does not mean one is taken to be non-Sikh automatically, since there are both Keshdharis and monas in the rural areas. In the urban areas however, it is more likely that losing the kesh means one could be automatically thought of as non-Sikh. This may explain the urban-rural divergence in turban-tying. Of course, even in the rural areas, there are some non-Sikhs and non-Jat Sikhs, still, I think my point holds.

    The kesh-turban issue has been there for a long time, as the perception of the balance between the benefits of looking different versus retaining the identity has see-sawed over time. Interestingly, even as far back as the late 19th and early 20th century, British Army recruiters (of all people) used to worry about it, since they wanted a distinct visual appearance among Sikhs for their colonial armies. They would therefore go to great lengths to instill the Sikh identity among their recruits, including standardizing turban-tying.

    In the immigrant context on the other hand – the very earliest generation of Sikh immigrants (1890s-1900s) retained their kesh and turban, but the generation that immediately followed them, in North America, would often shave beards and cut their hair, usually in Hong Kong, on their way to Vancouver (1910s-1920s). Similarly, ladies would get skirts and dresses instead of shalwar-kameez. As time went on, and the population of immigrants increased, people realized that discrimination was occuring regardless of whether you shaved your hair or not, and the benefits of a distinct identity, including an external appearance, became clearer. Today, the debate continues in the diaspora, but new issues, such as 9/11 and ‘globalization’ have come up. The latter is especially spurious to my mind. Sikhs are already a globalized community, and both the identity and the external appearance issue have held up well through the earlier phase of ‘globalization’ – pre-WW-I. The same largely holds today, in my view, and I hope more people would realize that.

  35. SP It occurred to me re: Sikh hotties that the only Sikh media stars I can think of are Daler Mehndi and Rabbi Shergill and a couple of other characters on music channels. Not exactly uber sex symbols but they do exist.

    Hmm… where do you come down on Kabir Bedi, an uber sex symbol if there ever was one?

  36. Anyone care to comment about this? I know very little about this issue to give any useful commentary, but find it interesting nonetheless.

    It has been true for a while, actually. The big shifts have been amongst rural Jats, with urban Bhapa Sikhs showing less abrupt change over time, although they too have a less steep decline in turban wearing.

    You can see this in the USA when you go to Gurudwaras – “Jat Sikh” Gurdwaras tend to have more monas, “Bhapa Sikh” Gurdwaras have fewer. It also shows up when you speak Punjabi since the dialects are different, so you can class somebody once they open up their mouths.

    I really resist talking in terms of tribes within Sikhi, because I think it’s very pernicious. But in this case the patterns are pretty clear, and one can rephrase in terms of urban and rural instead.

  37. Actually, it used to be quite common for South Indian men to wear turbans, and for that matter also elsewhere in Northern, Eastern or Western India – it has declined in the cities, but is still fairly common in rural areas. Most early Indian male immigrants to North America – Sikhs and Hindus especially, also wore turbans. In fact, Sabu, the Kal Penn of the 1930s, also wore it often, on and off-screen!

    Here are 3 ‘South Indian’ men – a philosopher-statesman, Vice-President and President (1952-67), a Nobel Laureate and a celebrated centenarian technocrat. The pictures are from the 1960s, but this is what contemporary American Presidents looked like back then, so men don’t wear hats any more over here, and Indian men don’t wear turbans so much any more. Turban-wearing has faded less-slowly among Sikhs because of the religio-cultural injunctions, but it still needs all the encouragement it can get.

    BTW, I’m totally with you on the ‘wearing turbans shows strength of conviction’ bit!

    Thanks chachaji for the links above (your comment in #34). I had no idea in the South Indians people wore turbans. But from the links above that you showed me, I guess the men wore their turbans different, b/c I don’t think they grow out their hair, like the Sikhs do. Somehow the hair makes it so much more attractive.

    I’ve never really thought about this but I guess many types of INdians wear turbans – not just Sikhs with long hair – I remember seeing old pics of maharajas wearing their jeweled turbans.

  38. The Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tenn had a special exhibition a few years back. Devoted to all things fab & Cartier, they had on display many rare objets that displayed the innovative genius of Louis Francois Cartier – such as his being a pioneer in using platinum starting in 1896: “The thick settings of gold, silver and heavy woven strands that had been known since time immemorial were like the armor of jewelry. The use of platininum, which became its embroidery, an innovation introduced by us, produced the reformation…”

    The “Garland Style” upped the wow factor of his diamond/platinum settings; the Maharaja of Patiala – commissioned him to create special turban bling.

  39. But from the links above that you showed me, I guess the men wore their turbans different, b/c I don’t think they grow out their hair, like the Sikhs do. Somehow the hair makes it so much more attractive.

    Although the turban and the kesh have a unique significance within Sikhism, related traditions of long hair and the turban, (separately and together) are also found elsewhere within India, though more likely in an ascetic context, especially today. Here are two South Indian Shaivite sadhus, for example. Guru Gobind Singh drew on this tradition in creating the kesh as a symbol of Sikh practice and faith. Of course, even outside this ascetic tradition, lots of men in India wear turbans, but as you note, they don’t necessarily grow out their hair.

  40. Actually, it used to be quite common for South Indian men to wear turbans, and for that matter also elsewhere in Northern, Eastern or Western India – it has declined in the cities, but is still fairly common in rural areas.

    Rajasthani culture was famed for its tradition of turbans…also sadly a dying phenomenon.

  41. All said and done, turbans in their various forms are symbolic of India. For example, I think it’s great that the male members of the Indian olympic team all wear turbans during the opening ceremonies.

  42. Yes I was about to say that about Rajasthan too, and also that turbans were traditional in other parts of Asia and the Middle East too.

  43. Chachaji – Kabir Bedi was super hot, but he didn’t wear a turban ever, did he?

    Very interesting that the kesh/identity issue became more relevant in mixed or urban settings, it makes sense that differentiation and staking out one’s identity becomes more important when it can’t be taken for granted. But you’d also think that young Sikh women who had grown up around predominantly Sikh men would be more likely to have a keshdari man as a norm or ideal.

  44. In Delhi amongst the Hindu Punjabis, it used to be asked, “Who goes for the Surd (Sardar) guys?” and the answer would invariably be “sadarnis of course, they like their own.” If Sadarnis find the look less appealing now, you cannot blame the Sadars for cutting their hair and shaving.

  45. Chachaji – Kabir Bedi was super hot, but he didn’t wear a turban ever, did he?

    SP, he may not have routinely worn turbans off-screen, but he has certainly worn turbans on-screen, including in his more famous roles, such as Gobinda in Octopussy, and also as Sandokan. He has an extensive Bollywood filmography, and I would guess he wore turbans in many other roles. Interestingly, he is cast in Deepa Mehta’s forthcoming Kamagata Maru. I would be very surprized if he didn’t have a turbanned role in that movie.

  46. In Delhi amongst the Hindu Punjabis, it used to be asked, “Who goes for the Surd (Sardar) guys?” and the answer would invariably be “sadarnis of course, they like their own.” If Sadarnis find the look less appealing now, you cannot blame the Sadars for cutting their hair and shaving.

    Maybe “sardarnis” find the look less appealing because of the pernicious influence of people around them who asked questions like that. And who probably didn’t stop at the questions but went on to make a bunch of bigoted and tasteless jokes at the expense of the “Surd” community. Another fact is that Indian media, whether Bollywood or the television channels, has waged subtle, low-intensity, psychological warfare against Sikhs and Sikhism for a long time now…the goal of this war is assimilation…and most often the people behind the scenes have been Punjabi Hindus.

  47. Amitabh,

    In Delhi, Sikhs refer to themselves as “Surds” very often. And I think you’ve been reading too many Khalistani websites if you think there is some war in the media waged by Hindu Punjabis against Sikhs. Get real, man.

  48. Wow, this thread got long! Firstly, right on Sonia, and way to hold it down. I’ve agreed vehemently with everything you’ve written – perhaps we have the same friend in common working on her MPH/MD? :)

    Re: turbans and are they attractive Having grown up in CA, I still find men with dastars/paghs attractive, and the image of a turbanned Sikh is clearly not exhalted or the “norm” out here! That said, what I find super unattractive is the personalities of these same guys. I don’t think the % of jerks is higher among Keshdari Sikhs, I’m just saying, I think working on one’s asinine personality is probably going to help more than cutting one’s hair in Punjab.

    Also, based on personal experience, my cousin’s father-in-law also felt that Sikhs in Punjab were too quick to cast off the turban. His complaint was, “Punjab, home of apostasy.” Kind of accurate, to be honest. I don’t meet many Sikhs in Punjab who have cut their hair but also identify strongly with Sikh religious teachings, etc. (I’ve found it to be more of a mixed bag – whether or not you cut your hair – in the West).

    Ok, back to side topics: Sikhi is “too complex” ShallowThinker, Sikhi is not that “complex” in explaining what happens after you die, etc., etc. What is complex is that people have different religious understandings and interpretations, and that the religion is dynamic enough to encourage dialogue and disagreement. Indeed, conversation and learning is one of the key underpinnings of having a sangat to begin with. That said, I honestly think the lack of consensus does not show that Sikhi is a confused faith, and I do think some questions are pretty straightforward.

    Son preference MoorNam, I was going to write something scathing, then decided against. Honestly, I find your argument ridiculous, but there isn’t much more to say.

    Thats a rather silly analogy. My point was that in Punjab sex selection of children is a problem as it has lead to female infanticide, large scale abortion of girls (leading to gender imbalance)etc. However California does not have the above problem and I dont see any problems with some lone Sardar having a preference for a boy or a girl. I dont have a problem with abortion anyway so we might not agree on this.

    California DOES have a gender ratio problem. Sex selection is wide spread and normalized and cross-cuts class and immigrant groups, which I found interesting. There hasn’t been a huge analysis of 2nd gen’ers (I would hope son-preference wouldn’t carry over), but I think that will be forthcoming. I’m really looking forward to Sunita Puri’s thesis coming out in the next few years because I think it will add a lot of empirical data and narratives to anecdotal experiences.