Friday, July 31, 2009

Turbans in the Palace Guard

Simranjit Singh and Sarvjit Singh join Queen's Guard

Bravo to Queen Elizabeth's staff for having two new members of the palace guard, both Sikh, maintain their turbans on duty. This is a big move, considering that palace guards have their own strict traditional attire, but considering Sikh history and recent developments in the world, I think the Queen's people made a great choice.

Since the seventeenth century, when Mughal Emperors tried to destroy the Sikh faith through systematic violence and intimidation, Sikhs have placed great value on the distinctive appearance that helped them foster a spirit of resistance and survival. This distinctive appearance is based in the Five Ks, but also traditionally includes the turban for men.

Prejudice against turbaned individuals following the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack led to some backlash against Sikhs in Western countries. In popular culture in the West, turbans of any kind quickly became associated with terrorism. Sometimes this prejudice manifested itself violently: Balbir Singh Sodhi of Mesa, AZ was shot in front of his gas station on Sept. 15, 2001 by a complete stranger. In France, the manifestation was more systematic: fears about religious extremism were channeled into a ban on religiously distinctive clothing in schools, a law which most directly affected Muslim girls and Sikh boys. (That France, of all countries, should behave with such intolerance is particularly tragic: the British army had so many Sikh soldiers during World War I, that there are probably more Sikhs soldiers who gave their lives defending France in that war than Sikhs who live in France today.)

That's why I find it particularly encouraging that the British have chosen to bend their own traditional garb for palace guards and invited Simranjit and Sarvjit to keep uniform turbans on duty.

Here's hoping that every step in raising the profile of turbaned Sikhs anywhere will help contribute to better treatment for beard-growing, turban-wearing committed Sikh men everywhere, from France to Brigham Young University.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.

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