|Amandeep Singh Saini, in white, cut his hair and discarded his turban, the most visible symbol of Sikh identity, at 14.
CHANDIGARH, India — Text messaging with one hand and holding a cup of milky tea in the other, spiky-haired Amandeep Singh Saini, 27, recalled the year-long battle he waged against his traditional Sikh parents to cut his hair.
The act was blasphemous to his father, who tied his long hair in a turban, the most visible marker of Sikh identity.
“I was 14 then. I wanted to jump into the village pool and play in mud. The long hair and the turban were always in the way. It took half an hour to tie the turban every morning,” said Saini, a student pursuing a doctorate in Punjabi literature.
After he cut his hair and discarded the turban, his two brothers followed suit. “My mother wept, my father was angry, but I was stubborn,” he said. “At that age, you don’t think about right and wrong. I look around the campus today, and there are so few turbaned Sikhs.”
The rapidly shrinking number of young Sikhs who wear turbans and have unshorn hair has alarmed many in this religious minority of 20 million. Although there are no formal surveys, community groups say that only 25 percent of Sikhs younger than 30 follow the practice. Many young Sikhs say the daily tedium of combing and tying up their long hair and a desire to assimilate are pushing them to give up the turban, a sacred symbol of a religion founded in the 15th century.
Now, a court case about college admission quotas for Sikhs is threatening to alienate hundreds of thousands of short-haired, un-turbaned youths.
In August, four students petitioned the high court after they applied to a medical college under a Sikh quota but were denied admission. The college said the students, who had cut their hair, did not fit in the category of Sikh. In the ongoing legal proceedings, religious bodies and scholars have testified about the importance of uncut hair to Sikhism. Read More…