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International Turban Day

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International Turban Day is celebrated on April 13th every year. This event was started in 2004 to bring awareness of the strict requirement on Sikhs to don the turban as a mandatory part of their religion. In the West since 9/11 in 2001, the turban, has attracted negative attention due to the wrongful linking of this garment with Osama bin Laden, the Muslim leader of al Qaeda who has often been pictured wearing a turban.

Due to the vast news and media coverage of Osama bin Laden following 9/11, many men wearing a turban and beard and Punjabi styled clothing articles (long vest or longer shirt) have been looked upon with suspicion, with some innocent people even being killed or wounded by uninformed and even deranged westerners bent on revenge, who just assumed that any Bearded man, wearing a turban and beard was a Muslim.

However, this perception is wrong, as the vast majority of people in Western countries who wear turbans are actually Sikhs. Given that many thousands of Sikhs died fighting against the same sort of Muslim fundamentalist terrorists that bin Laden's group al Qaeda and the taleban espouse today, the irony of such an uninformed assumption is tragic, especially since most Muslims living in the West do not wear turbans.

The turban or "dastar" or "pagri" often shortened to "pag" are different words in various dialects for the same article. All these words refer to the garment worn by both men and some women to cover their heads. It is a headdress consisting of a long scarf-like single piece of cloth wound round the head or sometimes an inner "hat" or patka. Traditionally in India, the turban was only worn by men of high status in society; men of low status or of lower castes were not allowed or could not afford to wear a turban.

Although the keeping of unshorn hair was mandated by Guru Gobind Singh as one of the Five Ks or five articles of faith, it has long been closely associated with Sikhism since the very beginning of Sikhi in 1469. Sikhism is the only religion in the world in which wearing a turban is mandatory for all adult males.


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Since 2004, on Turban Day, Sikhs worldwide organise various events to give information about the turban to the general community in their locality. Turbans of every hue are represented at these events and posters highlighting information about Sikhi are also displayed and handed out.

Turban tying session are arranged so that youngsters and others get a chance to wear a turban for the first time and have their photos taken. Many non-Sikhs take part in these events and sport the traditional headgear of the Sikhs to show solidarity with the community.

Many famous personalities are also invited to these events to bring more media attention to the plight of the Sikhs since 9/11.

In the news

Sikhs urged to support Turban Day

A Sikh organisation in northern India has called on all Sikhs to observe 13 April as "World Turban Day".

The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) said the purpose of the day was to improve international awareness of Sikhism.

It believes that distrust and aggression against Sikhs is caused by a general ignorance about the religion. Turban wearing Sikh men , especially those wearing beards and clothing styles similar to those in which bin Laden has been pictured, have been mistaken for Islamic fundamentalists since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

There has been more than one instance where US-based Sikhs have been attacked and even killed.

SGPC secretary Manjit Singh Calcutta told the BBC the idea for the day was mooted as a way to try to tackle the suspicion and hatred directed against turban-wearing Sikhs living abroad.

French ban


Mr Calcutta also said the recent decision by the French government to ban the wearing of religious symbols, including turbans, came from ignorance about Sikh religious customs and traditions.

He said Sikhs living abroad could celebrate World Turban Day by initiating local campaigns to inform other communities about Sikhism.

He said the significance a turban has in their religion should be emphasised.

He asked all Sikhs to don traditional hand-tied turbans on this day rather than the more casual under-turbans and half-turbans.

13 April was selected as Turban Day because it is also the eve of the Sikh festival of Baisakhi that marks the birth of modern Sikhism or the Khalsa.

In the northern Indian state of Punjab, where Sikhs are in a majority, the Baisakhi festival also signals the start of the harvest season and is in general a time of much joy and merry-making.

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World Turban Day

Amritsar, Punjab, India -- Young Sikhs stand outside the Akal Takht after doing Ardas to mark April 13 as "World Turban Day" - declared by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).

The SGPC said that Sikhs have been targets because of general ignorance about their religion. Since 9/11, Sikhs have experienced a spike in the number of hate crimes in the United States and Europe. Sikhs have also been caught in the middle of a French law banning religious headwear, originaly targeting Muslim women. The pracitice seems to be spreading in other countries in Europe.

SGPC secretary Manjit Singh Calcutta told the BBC the idea for the day was mooted as a way to try to tackle the suspicion and hatred directed against turban-wearing Sikhs living abroad.

In Amritsar, SGPC volunteers tied religious bands on the turban-wearing devotees entering the Golden Temple.

Sikhs stage turban awareness day April 15, 2004

Sikhs in India have observed World Turban Day in an effort to raise awareness that Muslims are not the only people to wear a headdress as a religious duty.

Sikhs were attacked, and some killed, in the US after being mistaken for Islamic fundamentalists after the September 11 attacks.

Tuesday was chosen as Turban Day because April 13 coincides with Baisakhi, the festival marking the formal establishment of Sikhism in 1699 by Gobind Singh, the last of its 10 gurus.

For Sikhs the turban and the kesh, or uncut hair beneath it, symbolise love and obedience to the wishes of the religion's founders more than 500 years ago.

Sikhism was founded in the 15th century by the visionary peasant Nanak Bedi as a caste-less religion preaching equality.

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Volunteers at the SMU's first Sikh Turban Day in April 2008 All photos by Flickr's Jaipreet Singh

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Latest News

The line outside the University of Texas at Arlington's library this week wasn't for intramural sign-up, a spring break travel package or even hot dogs sold off the grill for a fraternity fundraiser.

It was for turbans.

Sikh volunteers swirled blood-red, neon orange and aquamarine cloth around the heads of students as they explained why an item intended to distinguish the Sikh religion has threatened its identity.

UTA is one of five North Texas college campuses where Sikh students tied turbans and debunked myths for their spring break.

Billed as "Sikh Turban Week," the event is intended to clarify the misconceptions ignited after Sept. 11, detail the significance of the turban for Sikhs and showcase one of the region's fast-growing communities.

"It's nothing to do with Osama bin Laden or terrorism," said Jaipreet Singh Suri, the president of Southern Methodist University's Sikh Student Association and organizer of the event. "The message we want to go out is that the majority of people who wear turbans are Sikh and not Hindu or Muslim."

The SMU students recruited additional volunteers from the region's five gurdwaras – the Sikh place of worship – and raised about $7,000 from among the 5,000 Sikhs who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Most Sikhs originally come from the Punjab region in northwest India.

The idea took shape last spring when Suri, spurred by the persisting questions and accusations surrounding his turban, decided to host a "turban day" at SMU. He offered gift cards to students who agreed to wear a turban for three hours and tell others why they were doing so. The participants signed a paper that said they wouldn't smoke, drink alcohol or take off the turban during their assigned time. Students poured in long after the gift cards were gone.

This year, he moved beyond his own campus. The Sikh students are giving out $10 gift cards for Subway, Starbucks and Chipotle to the first 100 people to wear the turban for two to three hours at each campus event. By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, volunteers had tied more than 170 turbans and had to send people away because they'd run out of cloth.

It took Keith Jackson only two hours to understand the heft of American bias felt by Sikhs. The 31-year old heavy-equipment operator noticed the crowd in front of the library and decided to don a navy turban and an "Ask Me Why I'm Wearing a Turban" button. Then he went to lunch at Subway.

One man asked Jackson's colleague, who also wore a turban, if he was part of the Taliban. Another man told them that bin Laden was their big brother. Someone on a bike started screaming at them. Everyone stared.

"I learned there's still a lot of prejudice out there," he said, shaking his still-turbaned head. He accepted the gift card but said he would have participated for free.

Events such as these are "baby steps," said Rajinder Singh, a software engineer from Allen who teaches Sikh history at the Richardson gurdwara.

The religion lacks a public figure or an established network to explain that Sikhism does not align itself with Islamic law and rejects the Hindu caste system, he said. Turban Week is an attempt to spur that discussion, said Singh, who pointed out that the first victim of a hate crime after 9/11 was a Sikh. Even in India, Sikhs have long been persecuted.

"If you are asked to strip, it's the same as asking me to take off my turban," he said. "It's a form of identity" and a reminder of faith. Everyone can wear this kingly crown because all are on equal standing, he said.

The religion mandates both genders cover their head, but it's become more culturally acceptable for women not to do so. Almost everyone who wears a turban in the United States is Sikh. About a half-million Sikhs live in the United States, with the largest population in California. Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world and has at least 24 million followers worldwide.

The turbaned man may become a more common sight in North Texas as Sikhs relocate from California in search of better job and housing prospects. At the Richardson gurdwara alone, about 100 families have arrived from California in the past several years, said Inderpal Singh, who represents the gurdwara for the World Sikh Council-American Region.

Sikhism, whose origins date only to the 15th century, draws on aspects of Hinduism and Islam but is a separate religion. Guru Nanak, the first of ten Gurus, or holy teachers, pushed the faith's principles of egalitarianism, community service and moral purity. Along with the turban, the religion has five other tangible symbols of faith: uncut hair and beard, a wooden comb worn in the hair, an iron bracelet, a small ceremonial sword and a special type of underwear.

The most distinguishable article of faith – the turban – ends up conjuring notions of Islamic fundamentalism for many Americans, who have difficulty distinguishing the range of cultures from Egypt to India, said Robert Hunt, the director of Global Theological Education at SMU.

"In Dallas and elsewhere, Sikhs have flown American flags and worked hard," he said.

Not everyone appreciated the turban invitation this week.

"I don't want to be around it," said Jarrett Crowe, a 24-year old UTA student from Tampa, Fla., who served in Iraq. "It takes me back. Too many bad memories," he said glancing at seated students having their heads wrapped.

It wasn't the Iraqis who wore the turbans but third-party nationals who worked on the base, he said. Still, the turbans rekindle thoughts he is trying to forget.

He walked away quickly.

Ali Crocker had the opposite response. The 20-year-old political science major from Mansfield sported a vivid, mauve turban as she admitted she'd only heard of Sikhism in passing and viewed it as a sect of Islam.

"I had no idea," she said, reading over the stack of yellow handouts. Then she too walked away, passing them out as she went.

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