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The Story of the Turban
April 3, 2013 11:16 PM   Subscribe

The Story of the Turban (slyt) is a 38 minute documentary on the history of the Sikh community in 20th century Britain as embodied by the struggle to be allowed to wear the turban in all walks of life.
posted by salishsea (17 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interestingly, apparently Turban wearing is on the increase in the UK and on the decline in India. Because of abuse.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:42 AM on April 4, 2013


Because of abuse.

Because of association.

"But the turban has increasingly come to be associated with violent Islamic jihadism because members of the Taliban in Afghanistan wear turbans, as have some British Muslim terrorists in their suicide videos."
posted by three blind mice at 1:50 AM on April 4, 2013


No, it's abuse, and the history long predates the current conflict in Afghanistan. After Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 3,000 Sikhs were murdered in retaliatory rioting by Hindus. There is a long and rich history of mainstream Hindu politicians making statements about Sikhs as extremists since independence - some of it justified but much of it is plain old discrimination by the Hindu majority.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:05 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I say this as a religious man, with his own (Christian) strictures on headgear: gosh, God is very very concerned with what we put on the top of our heads, isn't he? Male or female, hat on or hat off, wig or cloth or little hat or big hat, hat on inside or outside.. So many religions, so many different hat rules!

Of course, it's not about the hat, it's about the obvious display of allegiance. But still, it amuses me. I couldn't stop myself getting cross at a chap in Church wearing a baseball cap. Visitor, young, come for a Christening, and I thought "the point of this celebration is not to enforce little rules about hats, come on, that's not very Christian" - but still it rankled. And hats aren't that big a deal for Christians (here, now.)

So having a really important, central item of the faith - like a turban is now for Sikhs - banned or denigrated - well, that would be wrong. I know it's only a hat, but it's more than a hat.
posted by alasdair at 3:10 AM on April 4, 2013


Alasdair, I think it's only right that God would be so concerned with headgear. From His vantage point up there above us in Heaven, the tops of our heads is all he can see. It's easier to distinguish which side we're on if each religion has its own hat. Otherwise it would be like watching team sports without the colored shirts.

Of course the Devil, looking up from down there in Hell, he's more interested in our shoes...
posted by Del Chimney at 4:38 AM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Sikh turban-wearing is related to their practice of not cutting their hair. It's not like if they take their turban off they will look like everyone else.
posted by Quonab at 5:28 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


After Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 3,000 Sikhs were murdered in retaliatory rioting by Hindus.

That's a bit different than saying that 3,000 Sikhs were murdered for wearing turbans.
posted by three blind mice at 5:51 AM on April 4, 2013


It's the same thing, unless you're being obtuse about it. Wearing a turban marks one as a practicing Sikh. If they weren't wearing turbans, they were assumed to not be Sikhs.
posted by ardgedee at 5:58 AM on April 4, 2013



That's a bit different than saying that 3,000 Sikhs were murdered for wearing turbans.


In effect, many were murdered for wearing turbans. The turbans are how they were identified as Sikhs. Some men were able to escape by shedding their turbans and cutting their hair, but some refused to do so and died for that.
posted by bookish at 6:04 AM on April 4, 2013


That's a bit different than saying that 3,000 Sikhs were murdered for wearing turbans.

Eh?

Me: Turban wearing is on the decline in India because of abuse.
You: It's because of association
Me: There is long history of discrimination and antipathy, including a violent massacre
You: That's not the same as saying they were killed for wearing turbans

I'm not saying they were killed for wearing turbans - the non sequitur is your introduction. I'm saying that anti-Sikh discrimination is a longstanding and sometimes violent part of the landscape in India. And therefore turban wearing - i.e. marking yourself out as a Sikh - is on the decline.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:20 AM on April 4, 2013


I feel that content from an objective source can often help to change the conversation, and help educate the public about tolerance towards religious and cultural beliefs.
posted by Lizard at 6:28 AM on April 4, 2013


Sikhing acceptance from a hostile society is never easy.
posted by Renoroc at 6:45 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Furthermore, tbm, the anit-Sikh rioting in India aside, the visibility of Sikhs has often made them a target of abuse from groups with a general dislike of South Asians- such as National Front Skinheads in '70s and '80s England.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:16 AM on April 4, 2013


As far as religions go, Sikhism is one of the more interesting ones, and, while I know it's a generalisation, the Sikh folks I know are very kind and gentle. And they like to drink beer.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:32 PM on April 4, 2013


I finally got time to watch the whole show today. Very interesting. Coming from the US where we have "freedom of religion" in the Constitution, it's interesting to see how other countries grapple with these sorts of issues and I feel like the BBC did a good job of explaining them.
posted by jessamyn at 2:34 PM on April 4, 2013


MuffinMan: " I'm saying that anti-Sikh discrimination is a longstanding and sometimes violent part of the landscape in India."

I wouldn't go quite that far. Besides a handful of significant outlier cases (early 80s, Kashmir), the main thrust of post-1947 persecution hasn't been violent. The decline in turban-wearing can be attributed to the global reduction in strict religious adherence and the desire to blend in socially. The community stigma attached to cutting hair is nowhere near where it once was.
posted by vanar sena at 9:31 PM on April 4, 2013


Religious things that are probably on a decline in India for a variety of reasons:
  • Turban wearing among Sikhs
  • Wearing of the sacred thread among Brahmins
  • Stereotypical beards and caps among Muslims
  • Number of 'digambara' monks among Jains
I know a lot of Sikhs (both turban wearing and not wearing variety), and I am married to someone who is part-Sikh. At least in my social circle, the younger Sikhs who have decided to cut their hair have done it just to look "modern" and not to escape abuse or persecution. Some of their fathers and grandfathers did indeed cut their hair to escape the Delhi riots in 1984. While that was a massive tragedy, the stereotypical Sikh has always actually been a hard-working and honest person. The popular Indian belief, in fact, is that there are no Sikh beggars (go ahead and Google it). They are held in high esteem in general (and hold plenty of high offices in government and corporate sector), and while India has a lot of "Sardar jokes" they are no more butt of jokes than many other communities.

So, here is a positive "Sardar Joke" for you:
During the India-Pakistan war in 1965, the Sikh Regiment was stationed at the Punjab border and both sides were engaged in heavy battle with neither side giving an inch.

That's when Santa Singh [Sikh name] had a brainwave.

Santa Singh (shouting): Oye Abdul.. [common muslim name]
A Pakistani named Abdul stands up in the trenches and is shot.

Santa Singh: Oye Muhammad..
.. and so on.

Eventually the Pakistanis figure it out, and one of their soldiers decides to trap Sikhs in a similar way.

Pakistani soldier: Oye Santa Singh..
No response.

Pakistani soldier: Oye Banta Singh..
No response.

Pakistani soldier: Oye Gurdev Singh..
No response.

Suddenly a voice booms from the Sikh trenches..

Oye.. who called for Santa Singh?
The Pakistani soldier gets up.
With due apologies to Pakistani Mefites. There is a bit lost in translation, but this is the best I could do. It is, of course, best told in Punjabi.
posted by vidur at 11:30 PM on April 4, 2013


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