The end of 2010 has spawned all kinds of retrospectives on that year, mostly in the form of “Top 10” lists of various categories. An interesting exercise is to consider what were the top five stories related to Sikh Americans during 2010.
Why the top five and not the top ten? The number five has a special significance to Sikhs:
- Sikhism originated in Punjab (now in India and Pakistan), which is the land of “five rivers” (“Punj” means “five”, “ab” means “river” or “water”).
- Baptized Sikhs (Khalsa Sikhs) wear five symbols: uncut hair (covered with a turban), comb, steel bracelet, underwear, sword (or commonly called a dagger)
- The first five Sikhs that were baptized were called the Panj Pyare (Five Beloved).
- There are five seats of authority for Sikhs, called takhts. These are all located in India.
- There are five evils that Sikhs must overcome: anger, lust, greed, ego and attachment.
I could go on with other examples, however, on to the Top 5 Sikh American stories of 2010!
While there were many significant stories and any such listing is certainly debatable, the following stories probably had the largest effect for Sikhs in the United States during 2010:
1. New TSA procedures and the Sikh turban
I’ve gone at length on this blog about TSA’s new search policies and procedures in American airports. The outcry was not limited to Sikhs, as many Americans objected to the invasive nature of the TSA’s imaging machines and patdowns. Sikhs are also subjected to searches of their turbans that in many cases included the humiliating removal of this religious article of faith. There is a sense that these procedures lead to religious profiling of those who wear turbans.
2. Turbaned/bearded Sikhs allowed to serve in the US military
For the first time in decades, turban-wearing and bearded Sikhs were allowed to serve in the US military, breaking the “clean-shaven” ceiling that had been implemented in the mid-80s. Tejdeep Singh Rattan and Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi were awarded their exemptions in March, and Simran Singh Lamba was granted his waiver in November.
3. President Obama passes on visiting the Golden Temple
When it was announced that Sikhism’s holiest temple might be on President Obama’s itinerary on his state trip to India, Sikhs in the United States were elated. Often confused for Muslims and targeted for hate crimes as a result, Sikhs saw this as an opportunity to educate Americans on who the Sikhs are. However, word came out that Obama would be bypassing the Golden Temple because he would have to cover his head in a way that would fan the flames of those who believe that Obama too, is Muslim. American Sikh groups lobbied extensively in the hope that a US Presidential visit would take place, but to no avail.
Obama did skip the visit and made little comment about it. Many Sikhs in the United States and the world over were left sorely disappointed that the White House allegedly catered to ignorance.
4. Sikh Coalition releases study on bullying and Sikh issues
The Sikh Coalition published their civil rights report of Sikhs living in the Bay Area (California) and revealing the harrassment that Sikh children face in American schools. This study catalyzed a response by Sikh parents to educate schools, students and communities about Sikhs and their articles of faith.
5. Sikh is in-sourced on Outsourced
In another example of breaking the “clean-shaven” barrier, Guru Singh appeared as a regular character on the NBC sitcom, Outsourced. While his role was minor, this was the first time a turban/bearded Sikh appeared on a weekly sitcom on a major US network.
Are there any other stories you feel should rank among the top five for Sikh Americans?