“You’ve never cut your hair? Not even a trim?” These are some questions that almost every Sikh must have encountered. If you are Sikh, there are positive chances that you are even nodding your head. Well, the Sikhs who have short hair are even asked how their hair is so short if they haven't had any haircut or a trim. 

Sharing her experience about the same, Tajinder Kalia, an artist, said that she was born with shoulder-length thick ringlets. She said that it was hard for others to believe that she never cut her hair, and had short hair naturally. Tajinder had been a follower of Sikhism and abided by the rule of keeping kesh and staying true to the form that Waheguru intended. She said it was easier for people to believe that she was another ‘Gursikh’ girl who secretly cut her hair. However, that was not the case. 

Is hair the only way to establish the image of a true ‘Sardarni’?

Tajinder said that she never attempted to cut, trim or even burn off the hair ends with a curling iron. Throughout her life, she has abided by the dictums of Sikhism. However, this image of Sardarnis or Sikh women having long hair has made her question her identity. It has always made her feel less like a ‘Kaur’ (Sikh female name as used by the followers). 

Markers of Sikh identity are worn with an immense sense of pride, but still, it remains a complex paradigm. At the core, Sikhs are supposed to feel comfortable and cherish the form that Waheguru or the wondrous lord gave. However, Tajinder, like many other Sikhs believes that it never felt worthy. The patka-clad ( the colourful cloth worn by Sikh men, especially boys to cover their hair) boys have faced discrimination as they always stand out of the crowd. In India, and abroad, their identity is questioned. Wherever they go,  heads turn and people look at them with curiosity. So, Tajinder compares herself to them thinking that she had an easier way of life than them. 

The question of identity 

On one side, there is always a feeling that short hair makes Sikh women less of a Kaur. On the other hand, there is a glaring dilemma that shouldn’t Sikh women also stand out, and are they doing enough to represent their identity.

Tajinder Kaur shares her experience saying that in the past, she has been asked if she is Hispanic, West Indian, Thai, Filipino, and just about every mix of ethnicity you can imagine. If you just go by the looks, she feels that she could be associated with a lot of cultural and ethnic groups. However, she wants to be a representation of just one group that she is proud to be a part of - the SIKHS. 

Our looks are some of the best representatives of the culture, values and belief systems. However, when one is unable to align it appropriately, there is always a dilemma of whether we belong to that group. And are we doing enough to express our utmost love, devotion and respect for the religion or culture we belong to? 

Throughout her life, Tajinder, like so many other Sikh women, has tried to find ways to wear her Sikhi pride. She wanted the physical embodiment of Sikhism. This is something that most of us go through. For some, it is achieved by wearing a kadha, for others, it is achieved through the kirpan or the Sikh crown, the turban

Kaur to the Core

For Tajinder Kaur, the acceptance came when she moved from Canada to New York. As she shifted from her native land, she realized that Kaur-ness was not something limited to the physical outer self. It is something that lives and breathes in us. Essentially, it is the essence of one’s being. In simpler words, it is the way one lives, the values one follows, and the belief system that one upholds. As Tajinder very beautifully said, “ My Kaur was the Core of me. ” 

A person can not be a bad Sikh because they do not fit the assumed Sikh appearance. It is not in the looks or the outer appearance. The real Sardarni, or for that matter, a real Sardar, resides in the inner self. 

Sikhism has a physical identity, and we cannot deny it. The quote by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, "Khalsa mero roop hai kaas," (The Khalsa is my genuine form) is often misinterpreted. It is not about the ‘roop’ or outer self, but that our inner self gives us strength when it’s hard to stand out. So, it is each person's job to reflect their core to their external look. 

Sikhism is about following the tenets and being true to oneself. It is not about assessing oneself or others on the basis of how they look, but more about how their actions unveil true Sikhi


*Based on an article by Tajinder Kaur, published in 2017, in Kaur Life

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