American Turban

The bigotry over there

A YouTube video posted by a Japanese high school teacher (nod to Karaminder for the link) describes the revelation that his students did not recognize racist attitudes within their own country or society, thinking of it as an “American” problem:

I was surprised to find out that almost all of my high school students (about 1000 students) were not aware of the racism and discrimination that goes on in Japan.
Racism and discrimination in Japan does exist, however, it is not a topic that is reported on enough in the news and is rarely talked about in the schools.

While the teacher discusses the history of racism or bigotry in Japan, the concept that such discrimination is not recognized to be perpetrated within our own societies, cultures or groups is quite universal.

A recent study published in The Washington Post compared racial attitudes of residents in 80 countries around the world by quantifying responses that indicated whether a person was agreeable to living next to someone of another race:

"A fascinating map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries." (Source: The Washington Post)

“A fascinating map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries.” (Source: The Washington Post)

Among the worst performing countries in this survey were the respondents from India, over 40% of whom stated they would not want people from another race as neighbors (however, see critical evaluations of this survey here, here, and here). Despite the criticisms of the survey, the results from India’s respondents were not shocking for a country that is strongly founded on the system of social stratification called the caste system, and for a strong preference for lighter skin tone. In 1959, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about his trip to India equating the struggle for social equality in India with that of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s: “We call it race in America; they call it caste in India. In both places it means that some are considered inferior, treated as though they deserve less.” So strong is the influence of the caste system that despite the fact that the Sikh Gurus preached against it, Sikhs have not eradicated its practice in our own community today (this topic was explored in depth at the Sikholars conference in February at Stanford University in California).

While the western hemisphere showed a much higher level of tolerance in this survey, we fully recognize that bigotry and racism is still quite alive in the United States. For those of us in the Sikh and South Asian community, we are very cognizant of the bigotry perpetrated against us by those outside of our community, but we should also not be blind to that which we perpetrate within as well.



  1. “the influence of the caste system that despite the fact that the Sikh Gurus preached against it”
    Progressive as it was given the medieval times, the Sikh gurus critique was very limited if measured against 20th/21st or century modern values. All the Sikh gurus were Khatris and as far as I am aware, they all married within the Khatri castes.

    • JS Grewal mentions it in ‘The Sikhs of Punjab’. I will look it up and post the page number here. It is a commonly known fact and should be easily available online too. You might want to google for now,

    • I found an online version of Grewal’s book. Here is the quote from page #46:
      “Guru Ram Das was a Khatri of the Sodhi subcaste, and he came under the influence of Guru Amar Das as a young hawker. Guru Ram Das nominated one of his own three sons, namely Guru Arjan, as his successor. Henceforth, Guruship was to remain in the Sodhi family of Guru Ram Das. All the Gurus, thus, were Khatris with a rural background.”
      Page 80:
      “At the time of Guru Gobind Singh’s death, however, there was none in the three generations of the surviving Sodhis who could be considered for taking up this grave responsibility.”
      Page 96:
      “The descendants of Guru Nanak and Guru Ram Das, the Bedis and the Sodhis, came to be held in high esteem, and nearly every Sikh ruler extended patronage to them. The descendants of Guru Angad and Guru Amar Das, the Trehans and the Bhallas, also received state patronage”

      There are more details on how Bedis, Sodhis and Bhallas/other sub- castes that the gurus had belonged to received state patronage particularly during Ranjit Singh’s reign.
      The books is available at:

    • Guru Granth Sahib, page 349:
      “Recognize the Lord’s Light within all, and do not consider social class or status; there are no classes or castes in the world hereafter. ”

      It is silly to assign a caste to the Guru Granth Sahib.

  2. Notice the preface to my question. As I have been observing intensely over nearly a year, there seems to be this double mindedness over caste in the Sikh realm. Jatts looks down on Chamare, each avoiding the other’s gurdware (pardon the rhyme). Dalits are driven out altogether and seek refuge in other movements. Is it such that caste is disregarded only among the Amritdharis?


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