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Sikhs consider their turbans a gift from their gurus. Many Sikhs around the world wear the turban as an expression of their faith and commitment to serving humanity. Sikhs have worn the turban throughout history to indicate their willingness to protect everyone from injustice, regardless of their faith, gender, or color. One of the most identifiable symbols of Sikhism is the kesh in a turban. 

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee defined a Sikh as someone baptized and wearing the five Ks "as bequeathed by the 10th Guru" in 1945. The Sikh turban has also been affected by several current trends. Sikhs have increasingly been targeted for hate crimes since 9/11, primarily in the US, where their beards and turbans have led some to mistake them for Muslims, Taliban, and ISIS supporters.

It is an important part of the Sikh identity to wear a turban. In the Sikh tradition, the turban is a symbol of equality, royalty, and sovereignty. Sikh females all across the globe are increasingly wearing them, something they haven't done traditionally.  

In Sikhism, a turban symbolizes faith just as much as the uncut hair underneath it. It all started with Guru Gobind Singh's edict, which established the Khalsa, a brotherhood and sisterhood of baptized Sikhs. He established the five K's of Khalsa (a pure Sikh community), which comprise Kesh (uncut body hair), Kangha (a wooden comb for the hair), Kara (an iron bracelet, also known as Kada), Kachera (100% cotton tieable undergarment), and Kirpan (a wooden comb for the hair) (an iron dagger large enough to defend oneself and others). The Guru stated that the followers of Sikhism should maintain uncut hair or Kesh. 

According to Guru Gobind Singh, the turban is a symbol of equality within the religion, indicating that all Sikhs are equal before God. The turban was originally adopted by men and the chuni (headscarf) was adopted by women. Women from the faith adopted the turban as the religion spread around the world.

As the religion spread and flourished, women of the faith began to adopt the turban as well. The religion reached people who were converting to Sikhism and went back to the fundamentals of the religion.   Especially Amritdhari women (Women who are baptized into the Khalsa code of conduct) who opted to adhere to traditional ideologies stating that all Sikhs must leave their hair uncut. When the norm of uncut hair was established, it included bodily hair; but, due to societal pressures, women were required to 'clean' the rest of their bodies except for their long, luscious hair. 

The wave of women donning the turban came about because they wished to become equal within the religion. This feminist movement was fueled by the necessity for women to live on an equal footing with males in the community and to wear turbans as the warriors did.

 A professor of religious studies at Waterloo University, Canada, Doris Jakobs, explained to the BBC that she conducted research into this subject and discovered that these traditions are mainly adopted by women living outside their traditional homelands of Punjab seeking recognition for their faith. She said, " This is something that the younger generation in the diaspora is 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 (equality amongst all) principle of Sikhism."

Jasjit Singh, a researcher at Leeds University who has spent years interviewing women who have begun to wear the turban, told BBC that there are many reasons for this. According to him, some people believe it helps with meditation while others believe it is the art of a Sikh’s uniform. This attire is chosen by women because they believe it brings them closer to God, helps them remain equal to men, and this is what Guru Gobind Singh meant when he asked 'all' Sikhs to wear turbans. He said “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 the Guru gave a uniform to all Sikhs – and so why shouldn’t they wear the turban as well.”

This movement is all about breaking gender barriers, standing shoulder to shoulder with the men who represent the community, and reclaiming gender norms for women. Women who choose to wear the turban wish to spread the message that turbans are not a symbol of masculinity, but rather of royalty, equality, and sovereignty, thus there is no gender barrier to wearing a turban. 

British model, life coach, and motivational speaker Harnaam Kaur was one of the first women to speak publicly about the power of the turban. Having been diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) at 12, she decided to embrace her body hair, put on a turban, and even started growing a beard, letting it grow naturally. As a result of her revolutionary decision, she was featured on the cover of Teen Vogue in 2017! In most cases, women who wear a turban often leave their body or facial hair untouched. 

Other female influencers seeking to normalize turbans include poet and activist Jasmine Kaur, mental health nurse and campaigner Divya Kaur, and personal trainer Beyant Kaur. It all comes down to desi representation! 

According to Sikhism, women possess the same souls as men and are therefore entitled to cultivate their spirituality with equal chances of achieving salvation. A Sikh woman can participate in all religious, cultural, social, and secular activities including leading religious congregations, reciting the Holy Scriptures, performing Kirtan (congregational singing of hymns), and working as Granthis.

Sikh women are meant to be strong. They consider themselves Khalsa -the saint soldiers of the Guru and the Khalsa isn’t differentiated by gender. The turban gives them a great sense of pride, empowers them, and gives them an individual identity.


* Based on an article on Scoopwhoop by Akanksha Bhatia / Oct 09, 2019

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