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Why Are Some Sikh Women Now Wearing The Turban?

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35563415

Why are some Sikh women now wearing the turban?

By Rajeev GuptaHeart and Soul, BBC World Service
_88248195_davinder.jpgDevinder and her daughter Har-Rai

The turban is worn by millions of Sikhs - traditionally, mostly male ones. Now many Sikh women are donning it, too. Why?

"Doing this has helped me stay grounded and focused on what my responsibilities are as a human being."

Devinder is in her early 40s. She's a slender, tall British-Indian Sikh woman. She works as a teaching assistant at her local school in Ilford, north-east London. You can't help but notice that she wears a turban, or what's commonly known within Sikhism as a dastar.

The turban is the one thing that identifies a Sikh more than any other symbol of their faith.

An edict handed down in 1699 by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, requires Sikhs to not cut their hair. The turban, part of the Bana or military uniform at that time, was used to help keep the long hair and protect a Sikh's head.

However, in line with its military tradition, it's something that has always been a masculine symbol and almost exclusively worn by men, not women. That is until now, it seems.

"I wasn't always like this," says Devinder holding up a photo album of her younger years. "I used to have cut black curls, wear makeup - go out and do what people do on nights out… but it never sat comfortably with me even then."

Seven years ago Devinder decided to become fully baptised into the Sikh faith. She stopped cutting her hair, and began wearing a tall white wrapped turban.

"People told me I shouldn't do it and that it will hold me back. The elders felt it's something that Sikh women didn't do. But wearing my turban, I feel free and it pushes me forwards to be the best I can be every day."

As well as wearing the turban, Devinder lets her facial and bodily hair grow naturally as well. It's something she speaks confidently about.

_88242168_italian.jpgImage copyrightGetty Images Sikh women have more traditionally worn headscarves

"Asian women are naturally hairy so it was difficult to let go at first and let go of the expectations society places upon what a woman should look like," she says.

"But letting it go was so empowering. It's a way of saying this is who I am, this is how God made me and putting that above what society expects of me."

It impossible to know exactly how many Sikh women are now wearing the turban, but at a time when some Sikh men are deciding to cut their hair, Devinder is among a growing number of Sikh women deciding to wear one.

Doris Jakobs, professor in religious studies at Waterloo University in Canada, has done some of the most in-depth research in this area. She says that women tying turbans are mostly Sikhs living outside of their traditional homeland of the Punjab in India.

"This is something that the younger generation in the diaspora are doing. It's a sign of religiosity in which some Sikh women are no longer content with just wearing a chuni (headscarf). Wearing a turban is so clearly identifiable with being Sikh and so women now also want that clear visual sign that they are also Sikh as well. It's a play on the egalitarian principle of Sikhism."

Post-9/11, many Sikhs faced discrimination and have even been attacked after being mistaken for Muslims. Some in the community say have turned to the turban as they feel it helps give them an individual identity.

Sikhism at a glance _88242167_amritsar.jpgImage copyrightGetty Images
  • Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, founded in the 16th Century in the Punjab by Guru Nanak and is based on his teachings, and those of the nine gurus who followed him
  • The Sikh scripture is the Guru Granth Sahib, a book that Sikhs consider a living Guru
  • There are 20 million Sikhs in the world, most of whom live in the Punjab province of India. The 2011 census recorded 432,000 Sikhs in the UK

Jasjit Singh, a research fellow at Leeds University, has spent the last few years interviewing women who have begun to wear the turban. He says there are many reasons why they are doing it.

"Some say it helps with meditation and others say its part of a Sikh's uniform," he says.

"I found that many young girls see this as a way of reclaiming equality within the religion. The Punjabi community is still very patriarchal but these girls tell me that Guru gave a uniform to all Sikhs - and so why shouldn't they wear the turban as well."

The idea is an interesting one. Some might find it curious that, in order to seek equality, a woman might dress like a traditional Sikh man. But others argue a woman wearing a turban is a sign of empowerment.

Sarabjoth Kaur, 25, from Manchester, is one of them. She began wearing a turban two years ago. She appears draped in royal blue robes with a matching tightly wrapped turban. It has a metal shaster, a type of ancient Vedic weapon wedged into the front.

Sarabjoth, a former bhangra dancer, says her faith became stronger after she witnessed devout white Sikhs wearing the turban whilst worshipping in India. She strongly defends the right for women to wear the turban.

_88242163_second.jpgImage caption Sarubjoth Kaur (right) with Heart And Soul presenter Nikki Bedi

"People in my family weren't comfortable with it. They thought it would be difficult to get a job or how would I find a good husband," she says. "Before we had to change to fit in with British society.

"Sikh women are meant to be strong. They're still khalsa (saint soldiers of the Guru) and the Kkhalsa isn't differentiated on gender. When I tie my turban every morning I want to see my Guru. I feel a great sense of pride when I see my reflection as I think this is what my Guru looked like, this is what the khalsa looks like."

You can hear the full report on Sikh women and the turban on BBC Radio World Service's Heart and Soul programme, 09:30 GMT on Sunday 14 February - or catch up on BBC iPlayer Radio

Edited by InderjitS

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Guest Jacfsing2

I honestly think it has something to do with Keski being considered a kakkar by a particular jatha, (during Bhai Randhir Singh's time very few women wore a keski).

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I honestly think it has something to do with Keski being considered a kakkar by a particular jatha, (during Bhai Randhir Singh's time very few women wore a keski).

before even Bhai Randhir Singh ji said anything it was purataan rehit of akal takht the gorified folks removed the requirement in 1920s via Jathedar Gurmukh (sic) SIngh Musafir , he claimed it was to make it easier for our womenfolk to have amrit ??

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I believe, and this may be controversial, there's a slight correlation between the increase of hijabi-wearing females and dastaar-wearing bibiya. There is something occurring on a subconscious level with religious adherence in females of certain faiths that im sure a professional could chart better than my untrained mind is trying to grasp. Something to do with asserting and expressing their autonomy as religious women through the wearing of visual vestments of faith, in response to an increasingly intolerant (compared to previous times) society. Or something like that.

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This article may shed a little more light. The dastar has always been part of a certain type of Guriskhs in India. A bibi of ooch avasta whom I met about 20 years ago had always been wearing a dastar. Perhaps it is now because of the internet that we are becoming more aware of this particular fact. She is the only one I had known for about 10 years wearing a dastar. There are many more bibiya wearing the dastar now.

She was highly religious and told us that when they had an akhand path back there in India, they never slept and heard it all throughout. She woke up at amrit vela every single day to read sehaj path and bani. she knew a significant amount of bani off-head.

http://www.sikhanswers.com/sikh-articles-of-faith-identity/sikh-women-turban-dastaar/

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This article may shed a little more light. The dastar has always been part of a certain type of Guriskhs in India. A bibi of ooch avasta whom I met about 20 years ago had always been wearing a dastar. Perhaps it is now because of the internet that we are becoming more aware of this particular fact. She is the only one I had known for about 10 years wearing a dastar. There are many more bibiya wearing the dastar now.

She was highly religious and told us that when they had an akhand path back there in India, they never slept and heard it all throughout. She woke up at amrit vela every single day to read sehaj path and bani. she knew a significant amount of bani off-head.

http://www.sikhanswers.com/sikh-articles-of-faith-identity/sikh-women-turban-dastaar/

My Mum's Nanakey were very very dharmic , and she is the one who told me that the Akal Takht had this maryada and then I checked it out . She said there were many bibian she knew from her bazurg who wore chotte dastar.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03hwl0m

There r some very odd/dodgy questions asked here by nikki bedi, like "is it a myth/there proof that sikh women in history ever wore dastar?". Fitteh mooh

Govt sponsored interference to make it seem like somehow the girls are getting radicalised , remember that was the request before from GOI to create a bad feeling towards us . MissterSIngh how about actually reading history instead of jumping to false conclusions ? It was part of our history .

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Govt sponsored interference to make it seem like somehow the girls are getting radicalised , remember that was the request before from GOI to create a bad feeling towards us . MissterSIngh how about actually reading history instead of jumping to false conclusions ? It was part of our history .

I'm merely referring to modern times, particularly in the West in recent years. I grew up around Gursikhs as a child, but even back then, I don't recall many of the bibiya - of all ages - wearing a dastaar. Although when I went to India as a child, I saw many Gursikh females wearing a turban. I'm aware it has historical precedent. Just trying to understand the sociological reasons for recent trends, particularly since 9/11 has put religious beliefs under the microscope.

Edited by MisterrSingh

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I believe, and this may be controversial, there's a slight correlation between the increase of hijabi-wearing females and dastaar-wearing bibiya. There is something occurring on a subconscious level with religious adherence in females of certain faiths that im sure a professional could chart better than my untrained mind is trying to grasp. Something to do with asserting and expressing their autonomy as religious women through the wearing of visual vestments of faith, in response to an increasingly intolerant (compared to previous times) society. Or something like that.

how about they actually love their dharam and actually read the rules about attire and follow it despite familial prejudice or external hardship pild on them for their choices i.e they pukkey sikhs ? it really is not a fashion statement

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how about they actually love their dharam and actually read the rules about attire and follow it despite familial prejudice or external hardship pild on them for their choices i.e they pukkey sikhs ? it really is not a fashion statement

Read what I posted before you get emotional. Not once did I allude to it being a fashion statement. I suggested they felt compelled to adhere to this aspect of their faith due to the growing intolerance and hostility from an increasingly prejudiced western society, in affect thumbing their nose at bigots who want religious people to assimilate and disregard all overt, external articles of faith under the pretence of societal harmony.

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Read what I posted before you get emotional. Not once did I allude to it being a fashion statement. I suggested they felt compelled to adhere to this aspect of their faith due to the growing intolerance and hostility from an increasingly prejudiced western society, in affect thumbing their nose at bigots who want religious people to assimilate and disregard all overt, external articles of faith under the pretence of societal harmony.

I didn't do it to push anything onto others and I am sure many do it for the same reason as me , we want to look like our Father and Mother and siblings

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03hwl0m

There r some very odd/dodgy questions asked here by nikki bedi, like "is it a myth/there proof that sikh women in history ever wore dastar?". Fitteh mooh

also Sikhi was founded in the 15th century they could even get that basic fact straight , tells you what you need to know, they do not care about accuracy

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before even Bhai Randhir Singh ji said anything it was purataan rehit of akal takht the gorified folks removed the requirement in 1920s via Jathedar Gurmukh (sic) SIngh Musafir , he claimed it was to make it easier for our womenfolk to have amrit ??

Nobody is casting aspersions on the sincerity of these Bibiaans' faith. But there is no historical basis for your claim that the keski/dastaar was enjoined upon all Sikh women in the old days.The situation today is how it has always been - some women choose to wear a dastaar, but most don't. Do you have any sources corroborating your other claim about Gurmukh Singh Musafir?

None of the portrayals and accounts of the Sikhs before the 1920s represent Sikh women as mostly wearing turbans, the notable exceptions being female members of the Nihang order (and Mai Bhago, who was conspicuous by her manner of dress). The most common way in which bibiaan wore their kes was in a high top-knot towards the back of their heads, beneath a chunni.

These gorified folks you allude to are also precisely the people (Lahore Singh Sabha) whose movement helped give rise to groups like Bhai Randhir Singh's.

Edited by Balkaar

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I didn't do it to push anything onto others and I am sure many do it for the same reason as me , we want to look like our Father and Mother and siblings

The human mind works on many levels. What may motivate you to follow Sikhi is different for the next person. As much as we should avoid being slaves to the whims of our times, it cannot be disputed that external and internal stimuli play a huge part in our decision-making, whether we're conscious of it or not.

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