The significance of the turban for Sikhs and how it is perceived by the general public has undergone changes over time. I would like to share with you the real story of my life so you can understand my perspective on the importance of the turban.
I am always asked why I rebelled. I have a plain and truthful reply: ‘it was for the pride and dignity of the Sikh people’. Harimandir Sahib represents our faith and the Akal Takht Sahib our temporal seat. Those two institutions represent our turban and when the Indian army attacked in 1984, we were derobed. By destroying and crushing our turban, we were left with a removed turban from our head and being Sikh, we have to do what it takes to bring that pride and dignity back. We did what ever we could then and continue today, but unfortunately we Sikhs have not been able to regain it. The incident that happened in Mohali on the eve of the semi-final Cricket World Cup match was just another illustration of that.
The State apparatus of this majority-Sikh populated Punjab gives ample encouragement to show as much disrespect as is possible, otherwise no policemen or anybody else in power would dare touch the turban.
I recall my own experience of when I was arrested by the FBI in the USA and was put into custody. I was not wearing the turban at the time; being on the run, I was clean shaven, with cut hair and not wearing a turban. Prisons in the USA, like many prisons in India, don’t allow inmates to wear a turban. Shortly after arrest, I was called upon to appear before the international press, so that the police could show-off their catch, but I refused to go immediately. I strongly protested that before I appear anywhere, I must don my turban again to show the world that my fight is for the respect of the turban and I will not appear without it. Through perseverence I won and we were the only persons to be allowed to have our turbans with us at all times. On my long journey as a prisoner, this was my first victory.
The incident of Mohali reminds us of the days of 1982 when while passing through Haryana, the neighboring state of Punjab, Government and state police would publicly humiliate Sikhs by tearing there turbans apart. This recent incident is not an isolated event, but a sequential one to remind us once again as Sikhs that we have no self dignity and respect in this society. We have failed to stand by those very people who once stood firm against this disrespect. We have forgotten those who once struggled and still fight to uphold the dignity and pride of the Sikhs and our lost glory.
The emergence of a credible front in Punjab and a moral force of that face can inculcate a confidence, new-found self respect and pride in wearing the distinct turban and instill the underlying responsibility which goes along with this. But such a movement must bring with it those who have fought this battle for thirty years and more. I hope that before my journey comes to an end, I can see our turban back where it belongs and the dignity of the Sikhs returned once more.