The Sikh On the Street

These days most of us have to deal with discrimination and mistaken identity, because we visibly look different being Sikhs (Especially those people that wear turbans). Most people see the turban and think we are "middle eastern" or Muslim. They don’t have a clue that we are Sikhs which is a distinct religion from India and totally different from Hinduism and Islam.

Do people even know who the Sikhs are and what our faith stands for? Most people don’t. I sometimes wonder why this is the case. I have a few guesses as to the reason people don’t know much about us. In my experience I have seen a strong tendency for many Sikhs and communities to stay very "inward". Meaning only relating to those people that they are familiar with (ie: other Sikhs/Punjabis). How many Sikhs make a strong effort to go out and talk to people in their neighborhood? It takes effort and responsibility on the part of everyone to make sure that everyone they come in contact with leaves with a better understanding about who Sikhs are.

Judgements stem from from lack of understanding and information. This is even true within the Sikhs circles. We judge each other without fully accepting or understanding others, merely because they are different or might do things in another way than you. I think one major change has to be from within. If we judge each others, how can we expect others to be accepting and understanding of us with what little they know about us?

There is also a major cultural barrier. I think this makes it hard for people to relate to each other and find commonality. Someone right from Punjab may not know how to best explain something to a regular American (and vice versa). The cultural background can be a hurdle for many. Also people tend to stick with what is familiar to them, so it can be hard to break out of the box and put yourself out there to get to know someone who is different.

I also find that many Sikhs these days are more Sikhs as a result of upbringing and culture, rather than practicing Sikhi. So for many, educating people about Sikhi may not be a priority since in their own lives being a Sikh might not mean very much other than wearing a Kara and going to Gurdwara every once and a while. It’s just something that you grew up with and do because your parents did it.

I also feel that much of the Punjabi/Indian culture emphasizes more focus on financial gains, jobs, becoming famous and successful, etc. Whereas the religious aspect is not given as much of a priority. The balance is a little off in this area. Maybe this is just a result of people loosing touch with Sikhi and not "feeling the juice". Maybe it is just a social thing that has come as a result of people trying to survive. I can only speculate. When I hear about all the money Sikhs spend on different things I imagine…"What if that was used to serve and inspire people in creative ways?". I have experienced first hand how just a little bit of time and creative energy can reap major rewards in terms of promoting Sikhi. If only we all put some more effort into this. Most other religions have so many people putting a lot of effort into educational materials, marketing, community outreach, etc. I have seen very little of this within the Sikh community.

We all can complain about this or that thing, but the key is what you and those around you can do to break this cycle . We each have the power to effect change, however small we think we are. This change builds with great momentum when more and more of us take part. I think the Sikh youth that are growing up in western countries are the bridge builders. They have an understanding of both sides and can better communicate to "regular people". Every person should take responsibility for talking to their community about these issues. Get your Sangat/Gurdwara to sponsor events to educate people in the community. There are many creative ideas it’s just a matter of putting some energy into it.

No one likes to be called "Osama Bin Laden" or thought of as a terrorist. It is up to us to take responsibility to teach those around us who were are. We will continue to be victims of this "mistaken identity" if we don’t. We can’t expect those people around us to come to us to learn about Sikhs. We have to go out into the world TO THEM. Ready? Set? Let’s go…!

The following video by Dasmesh Pictures highlights these issues and is a great watch. Hopefully this will encourage you to take action.

"In August 2005, a question was posed by a group of Sikhs: After all the outreach and education done in the post 9/11 world, do fellow Americans know who the Sikhs are now? The only way they felt to find the answers was to actually go out into the streets and see what people thought.

Filmed in Washington DC, several brave Non-Sikh interviewees step up to the camera and give their perspectives and thoughts about who the Sikhs are, and what beliefs they hold."

Duration: 22 minutes, 33 seconds
Release Date: August 2005
Directed & Edited by: Sartaj Singh Dhami
Concept Design by: Supreet Kaur Rekhi, Harjot Singh, Sartaj Singh Dhami
Written and Filmed by: Supreet Kaur Rekhi

Other viewing options for the video
Streaming Video (Real Player)
Low Quality Download (Windows Media Video) – 67.2 MB
Medium Quality Download (Real Player) – 189 MB
High Quality Download (.MPG) – 224 MB

You can watch other educational videos by Sartaj Singh Dhami and the rest of the Dashmesh Pictures team online at: