Repeated below is an email I sent to my local Sikh community today. I’ve made a couple edits but nothing significant.
Yesterday, in India, my Sikh friend from 30 years (which is almost all my life) got married to his long time Hindu girl friend. Part of my family attended the wedding and so did common friends from college days. Today, I learn from them that my turbaned Sikh friend is now clean shaven; “perhaps as part of the deal he removed his turban and shaved his beard”. It first came as a shock and then a throbbing sadness, like that from a deep personal loss.
A friend who attended the wedding, found some resonance between the wedding yesterday and this story about Punjabi Americans from the early 1900s. And the words “perhaps as part of the deal he removed his turban and shaved his beard” are from the story.
So, now, I have no friend from the first 20 years of my life who wears a turban. There is a vacuum which cannot be filled. And the sadness of this loss pervades my heart. Yes, it is a personal loss. Yes, I am being selfish.
Countless Sikhs, specially in Punjab, have chosen to give away the beloved symbols of their faith. Some for prosperity, some to avoid looking different, some to avoid the daily duty to maintain long hair, and some for a wife. While we (the Sikh community) mourn the shootings in Wisconsin and work hard to educate the world about our turbans; while people from other faiths stand beside us and come to our “temple” to wear turbans; we, the Sikh community, have an internal threat that is even more urgent. And it is more urgent because of its hidden nature and its numbers. It is rare to see a non-Sikh become a Sikh for any reason other than having discovered a faith they fell in love with. And that should be the only reason for faith conversion. I am perfectly fine if a Sikh were to choose another faith of his own free will, under no greed or duress. But to negotiate, to pay one’s faith as a ransom to acquire another thing, is not okay. That is true for any person of any faith.
Where does the love for faith begin? Not a blind, mindless attachment. But, rather, a firm, righteous, yet kind love. It begins in the lap of your mother. In the stories and actions of your father. Sikh women, when they marry a non-Sikh rarely bring up Sikh kids. On the other hand, when non-Sikh women marry Sikh men, the story is no different. Again, the kids are often brought up as non-Sikhs.
A week ago, a white supremacist gunned down 6 Sikhs but could not make a dent to the Sikh faith. In fact, sensing danger, the community responded with more faith. Because we sensed danger and we sensed we were wronged. When Sikhs give up their faith everyday, we do not sense that same danger. It is a slow poison but one that claims thousands. One could argue it is a personal choice. But is it really a free choice? Would that Sikh give up the symbols of his faith had he got what he wanted (prosperity or spouse) without having to sacrifice his beliefs? Or was he given a either this or that choice? To me that is not a free choice. It is a ransom.