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: http://www.restoringthepride.com

31 Responses to “The Sikh On the Street”

  1. kiran says:

    I think the video is a really good idea…the interviews were conducted well too. well done…its amazing to see that not many people know about the Sikh religion and how people need to be educated on a much more higher level then they are today..Informing them about the Sikh faith and beliefs….Carrying out street interviews is just the beginning to this long journey.

    May Waheguru ji be with us all the way…

    lots of pyar

    Kiran

    ps its 7* in London today…very windy and slight hints of rain. xx

  2. Gombesa says:

    WaheguruJi ka Khalsa WaheguruJi ki fateh! I just got a job painting with a skin head x-con he’s huge with a big-ol-head{thats the only job I can get, its been 2 years so whatever has income}

    I wore my turban without caring of the outcome and he didn’t say anything cause I was fixing a chimney 40 feet in the air on it 1 1/2 feet by 1 1/2 feet,so he had respect. He gave me a nextel and about 4 hours later he called me on the walkie talkie and called me Mohamed being serious. That was the last time. I told him DO NOT EVER CALL ME A MUSLIM EVER AGAIN.I AM SIKH!!!!!! He was suprized that I scolded him about it, thinking that I’m so much smaller and wouldn’t rize up, but I did without even thinking about what he could do.I told him I’m SIKH and never again call me otherwise. He very much got the picture that I would stand up for what I am and do. He has since, never said anything but that I’m a very good worker and never complain{cause he pays me to work}.
    He now is very curious about what in sikhi makes me so strong.Its hard to explain even over weeks of time but he has respect for all sikhs now. Everytime we pass a sikh he says ” Hey, theres another sikh” {with respect}. He isnt going to convert or anything but it changed his perspective on all SIKHS not just me.
    I know sikhs arent supposed to be around those kinds of people but look what it has done{ONLY GOOD CAME OUT OF IT} So I’m glad with no regrets that I took this job with this man. I feel that I took a bad man off the street and replaced him with a more considerate person. SATSRIAKAL

  3. Anonymous says:

    Intersting video, but I’m still curious – is there a way to visually distinguish between a Sikh and a militant Islamic?

    Several years ago, and post 9/11, I saw a man in a store wearing a turban, uncut beard, and t-shirt with a large elaborate design featuring a dagger. I was shocked and offended, and a little surprised he had the guts to walk around in public like that. Now, I wonder if he was Sikh though at the time I thought he was obviously Muslim with some violent tendancy (the dagger design).

    It’s clear that much more education on this topic is needed for us average Americans.

  4. Gombesa: That’s great that you took the time to let your boss know about you being a Sikh.

    In my experience it is best to respond from love and acceptance. Many people really just don’t know who Sikhs are and just assume you might be a muslim. When you react in a strong way this can sometimes result in negative impressions and further problems. You show your true colors as a Sikh if someone mocks you or teases you and you can remain calm and respond in a cool way. Sometimes people want to provoke you, and when you show no sign of reaction they don’t know what to do. Guruka Singh told a great story like this of his experience in the 80′s of people shouting stuff at him about being a Sikh and wearing a turban.

    This is all part of the learning experience (for us and others)

  5. Gombesa says:

    SPIRIT OF GOBIND SINGH__I just bought a brand new house 1 out of 40 on the block 5 months ago and my neighbors didn’t know what I was or stood for so they just looked at me with an ugly face. Well the last couple days all my neighbors have been coming over to visit Kaylin,Jessica and I ,and I didn’t ask or even see them to invite them over. It just seems weird how now the smile and wave to me everytime they see me.
    Next door they saw all the doors and wanted the same I told them I’d install 8-9 doors with trim for free and they were shocked cause Home Depot charges $175 per door, and another want stuff to do with their doors I’ll do it all for free and I could really really use the money but Id rather have a blessing of respect from the block rather than a couple thousand dollars. About 3 8-12 year olds live next door, they stopped my and waved and said”Hi, I know who you are.” They must have seen a video at school or something cause they used to throw stuff over the fence into my yard and Id pretend like the did it on accident and tell them”Your stuff keeps getting in my yard here you can have them back, jump in my yard if you need your toys back.”
    Only my across the street neighbor is stupid he even knows Im not muslim cause I walked in his garage and talked to all the drunk mexicans{they ALL knew me in school} They could see that I have courage to confront anybody about education of people like me. This morning he puposely knocked over my garbage can spilling all my garbage on the street with his car {I watched it happen through the window blinds} So I had to kick over his and then cleaned up mine. THIS IS JUSTICE , and all my neighbors have my back they said. He’ll return from work chuckling and notice his over and mine dumped from the garbage man. He knew what he did so this is what he deserves. I could toe to toe him and all his friends, but they wont do anything cause they like me more than they like him.I post what happens later.We need to also stand up at certain times and not at other times.Ill post another story if anyone wants to know this also is sikhs true colors Waheguru ji ka Khalsa,Waheguru ji ki fateh!

  6. SikhsRus says:

    Thank you Gurumustuk Singh for another great post! Sikhs have a long ways to go when it comes to bringing awareness about Sikhs and Sikhi. There is so much to be done, but with very little resources. I wish there was less money being wasted on elaborate weddings, elegant houses, big suvs and cars and more on putting resources where they are needed such as making films, publishing books, educating self and others, supporting Sikh businesses, artists, events etc. and so many other things where Sikhi and Sikhs can be supported in a positive manner. We need a lot more teams of Sikh men and women like the Sikhnet team to do all sorts of projects, community seva of all sorts (not just within Sikh community) and make positive differences in people’s lives. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with making money or saving money since everything in this world from simple basic needs is tied to money these days, but flaunting and showing off that big SUV, extravagent wedding, or reception etc. may actually be hurting the Sikh community. Anyways, this is just one opinion.

    In another note: To the parents of young kids out there, I encourage you to attend the Khalsa Youth camp in Espanola. I attended the camp last years with my sons and it is really wonderful experience. I loved more than even my kids. This was a first ever Sikh camp for us. I wish I had grown up attending camps like these in Punjab. Both of my sons ages 8 and 11 have become vegetarians and I partially owe it to the camp for instilling and inspiring good things in to their lives. So far, the plans for this year are to attend it with the whole family but can’t say for sure. Also, it is a great way to support and learn from others.

  7. Gurumustuk is right. If out of ignorance, some body calls a Sikh a muslim, he at that time is not filled with soothing thought. He may be in anger and may become more hostile if he is attacked just by saying that I’m not a muslim, I’m a Sikh in not so pleasing words. We don’t want to start off on the wrong foot if we want people to be on our side and treat us with respect. It is not what you say but how you say it.

    I get day in day out such people who will call me names just passing by me in their cars. I don’t even care about them, coz I’m not going to follow them to give them the right information. Some say that to me face to face and some of them out of respect will also address me by salutation that muslims use. To those I would politely address the situation, get them involved in the conversation and in the end hand them a brochure I have handy that I downloaded from http://www.sikhcoalition.org. They thank me for the information and some even apologize, and I’m pretty sure that when they see another Sikh, they will be able to distinguish between a Sikh and a Muslim and would address him properly.

    I urge to all the Sikhs, turbaned or non turbaned, men or women, to download the brochure on Sikhism (link at the end of this comment) and make copies and pass it on to your friends and strangers so that the word could be spread. I have known some guys for sometime and this issue never came up, but I was surprised one day when they told me that they thought I was a Muslim. So give the brochure to all coz, your neighbors, coworker, convenience store clerk, friends etc… may not bring up this issue but they still might be considering you to be muslim.

    To create awareness is not a small task amongst millions of people and we keep beating around the bush that nothing is being done or something has to be done, but if such attempts are carried out at individual level by all of us, then slowly but surely, we will get there one day.

    http://www.sikhcoalition.org/sikhi_brochure.pdf
    http://www.sikhcoalition.org/sikhi_brochure_spanish.pdf

  8. sbk says:

    Thank you!! This was great. Seperatism serves no one and fear is the root of seperatism. How can we look to the masses to not be afraid of any group of people who appear different from the norm, if the group itself wears its fear and uncertainty. Do we not create our own reality? And if so, then as we shift our reality shifts and the reality of those around us shifts as well. The inside and the outside are the same.

  9. Anonymous: Thank you for your interest. First off a sure sign of a Sikh is that all Sikhs wear a Kara which is a steel bracelet worn on the wrist. It signifies bondage to Truth and freedom from every other entanglement.

    99% of people who wear turbans in American and many western countries (USA, Canada) are Sikhs. You can visually see a few different types of turbans here.

    The person you saw in the store sounds like he was probably a Sikh. The “dagger” that you saw is actually one of the 5 articles of faith that some Sikhs wear. It is called a “Kirpan” and is NOT a tool of agression. The kirpan, which resembles a sword symbolizes the protection of the weak by Sikhs. In the times of the Sikh founders the Sikhs were the protectors of many minorities and people of other religious backgrounds.

  10. Gombesa says:

    Now people know a little more about SIKHI please show the mans face behind the question mark.Please He deserves his face connected to his turban.ThanX

  11. To bad that turban site, did not show all types of Sikh turbans

  12. “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.”

    —————-

    Gurmustuk I will have to disagree with you on this point.

    There are plenty of families who have not been raised to be Sikhs but rather to be rich. But if you look at those parents they also are not much into Sikhi other than the social aspect. This is sad, but these people are lost, they dont know that they are wasting their lives. But they dont represent all Punjabi Sikh families

    There are many families though that are committed to Sikhi and everything they do is about Sikhi and every breath they breathe is Sikhi. There are many families like this, maybe you just have not been exposed to them yet.

  13. Otpreka Singh: I was merely speculating and making a broad generalization. I know that there are many dedicated Sikh families and was not saying everyone is like this. I was just trying to point out a theme that I saw which seemed to be common. There are in fact millions of Sikhs and in reality everyone is different.

  14. Gombesa says:

    About my post earlier EVERYTHING IS CLEARED UP about my neighbor he knew what he did and he will be extra carefull about everyones stuff. He tried to go to a nieghbor and complain about me and she told him that she’s on my side and said she talked to his wife about what he did so he’s in trouble and not by me but his own wife. See how a non-sikh was mad and confronted his problem to the best of her ability for me cause she knew it would be me looking like:” I know you are but what am I ” , and argueing with a fool.Now thats some block progress instead of me getting dumped on he knows now the whole block looks at him like they used to look at me. WAHEGURU JI KA KHALSA, WAHEGURU JI KI FATEH”

  15. Hey Gurumustuk,

    I saw something in your post which I have seen and heard before an I wanted to make you aware of it as well as everyone else who reads this blog. You referred to non-Sikhs as “regular people”. In the past I have corrected people for saying this and they usually respond with “you know what I mean” or they think I’m being fanatic. But the truth is that it may not have a huge impact on the adult Sikh psyhche, but it has a huge impact on children especially when it is said with no qualifications. Saying that non-Sikhs are “regular” implies that we are indeed “irregular” which has negative connotations. Please be aware of this and try to never refer to non-Sikh people as “regular” or “normal” in contrast to Sikh people, especially around children.

    I also wanted to add that working outside your community is a great way to spread the message of Sikhism on a daily basis. So many opportunities to educate arise unexpectedly. Just this morning I had a maintenance person who travelled from Albuquerque enter my office to fix the thermostat and he asked what faith I belonged to and why I wear a turban. It turned out to be a great lesson for him and for the person from Española who accompanied him. The man from Española had been seeing Sikhs for years and has a neice who works in a Sikh business yet he still did not know much about Sikhs and now he does.

    Thanks,
    Hari Singh

  16. Gombesa says:

    True Hari Singh But to sikhs sikhs are a different bunch non religious people cant always be reffered to as “non religious” Regular sounds better than non religious cause they think we are irregular cause we arent like them But my parents dont want to know as much as the person who asks about and wants to know SOME PEOPLE THINK WE ARE FORCING THEM TO LEARN AND THATS NOT THE FACT we just want them to know the essence of sikhi and some think we are converting if you bring it up at times other than when they want.. Waheguru Ji ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji ki fateh! SATSRIAKAL

  17. Punjabig says:

    This is very true. I think Sikhs need to go out and mingle with other groups and participate in local community as well. Just today, I went out on lunch with some consultants and peers. One of the consultants is South Indian Hindu. Over lunch conversation started about India and then it leads to religion. I was really surprised when couple of my peers said ..ohh, we didn’t know Sikhism is a separate religion and not part of Hinduism. And these guys are pretty familiar with Sikhs. So, imagine other folks who don’t get to interact with Sikhs on daily basis. They have no knowledge! Well, after that, several of them started asking me all type of questions about what Sikhism means and what it says about God. Do Sikhs believe in castes or not etc.

    Sometimes we shy away from talking about our religion because we don’t want to sound too preachy but that’s not the case. People are interested to know about your practices and beliefs if you tell them.

    P.s. Gombesa, I will agree with you that sometimes you can’t just explain yourself nicely to others. Because some of these folks are not interested in learning but they just want to put you down. There you need to explain in language they easily understand! Cheers!!

  18. ShaktiKaur says:

    Gurumustuk, this video was very important and has brought up some great discussions. I think the obvious message of the video and what you are trying to say is that by being separate from others creates the exclusion. Today, I was looking for opportunities to do some Seva in my community and I thought, what if the local Sikh community joined into some of the hundreds of events that need volunteers? What if instead of a yoga class we all helped an organization stuff envelopes? We could be part of the change we want to see! Hari Singh had the right idea, when we try to say “regular vs. us” we then create further separation. I am on my path to Sikhi and for most of my life have felt that I don’t fit it as my thoughts about life, spirituality, and love seemed outside the “norm” until I found Sikh Dharma. Even then, I know that I have some different views, because I have different life experiences and we aren’t all the same. It is part of the human experience to be comfortable in what we know, who we hang out with, and what we do. In order to grow we have to reach out of this complacency. I have made a concerted effort to understand those who have judged me and those whom I have judged and it creates freedom and understanding.

    Thank you for your efforts and time to create a place that can help effect change and I look forward to what I can learn each day from you posts and the comments. Keep up this important work!

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  25. ssk says:

    I just want to say thanks for posting that video. I enjoyed watching it. Great that he made it.

  26. singhkong says:

    its funny the way the world works. im from indonesia (largest muslim country in the world) and over here people actually think im a muslim priest. i get extra extra extra respect for my turban and beard!

    the world is in perfect harmony and balance!

  27. I write for free as a hobby for the Sikh Times. My most recent article can be seen at http://drsavi.blogspot.com. While I was researching for the most recent article : ‘Why do Sikhs celebrate Holla Moholla ?’ I came accross the the video site mentioned at this most recent posting. I was so impressed with this video that I ended the article as follows…

    ‘Interestingly, whilst researching I came across an excellent new online video, called Sikh on The Street: please visit:
    http://www.restoringthepride.com/sos.html

    I was deeply moved by this video (also downloadable), it showed us that there is still much to do to communicate the wonders of Sikhism, who we are and what we believe in – Interfaith communication is essential to help avoid ignorance and disrespect from each other.

    The Sikhs contribution to world history is amazing. The sacrifices for freedom should always be remembered in our hearts.’
    —————-
    Well done to the production team.
    As the video implies at the end, this is just the start – we all have a great opportunity to improve our communication with an aim to get a greater understanding and respect for each other.

  28. Having now read through 27 comments there are so many themes emerging.
    I think the responsibility to communicate is not only one that should be designated to ‘the youth’ – whatever that means.

    There are few episodes that I can give you from my life (having been born and brought-up in the UK):…

    I was visiting a company in Poole (Dorset) – UK. It was a large bank. After my 2 hr drive from London I arrived on a sunny afternoon. I got out of the car all suited and booted then headed for the large atrium reception area.

    The airy atruim had some centralised desks. I approached and announced who I had come to see. I said,’I’d like to meet Kath Cottenham’. The receptionist looked at me in a strange manner then remarkably said the following words, ‘Hey, your not supposed to talk like that’. Surprised at her comments I replied,’Well how would you like me to talk – You do know that Peter Sellers has done our community no favours.’ I remember adding, ‘My father came to the UK by boat in 1958′ and there have been a few generations in the UK – Obviously we’re going to have a British accent. You would have thought nothing of our interchange if I’d been on the phone.

    In the video we see that those being interviewed are aware of Judism and other religions.

    In summary, is the issue that there is insufficient or ineffective PR? The answer is Yes : Who are the spokespersons that the press head to when requiring comment.

    If we can get more involved in local charities, then a greater chance to network between different communities can emerge.

    Maybe we need a big Hollywood movie to help spread the word of who we are.

    Another solution is to use the power of the web to promote goodness.

    Charity, Communication, and collaborating with one’s community on common issues could be one way of reaching out to the general community.

  29. Joti says:

    hi my bro wants 2 tie a dastaar but doznt no which 1 2 do & doznt no how 2 tie it. pleaz email me sum pic of different tuban styles. and video clips 2. thank you

  30. Joti…you can watch some videos on turban tying at: http://www.sikhnet.com/s/tyingturbans

  31. gursimran says:

    i am sick of our people gettting mistaken for muslims. i feel anger towrds them. why did they have to drop bombs,it has ruined many sikhs lives, from england to america streotypes hurling abuse.it needs to be sorted out and done so now.