Tying culture together

Turban 3 (Andreas) online
Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros

Members of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Sikh Student Association are tying the community together, one turban at a time.

In celebration of Sikh Awareness Day, the Sikh Student Association organized the second annual TURBAN UP! event on March 15. People of all races and ethnicities, sexual orientation, gender and religious backgrounds were invited to have their own turban tied on their head for free while learning about Sikh culture and tradition.

Occupying a marginal space of the Concourse, various members of the Laurier SSA assisted in the event to ensure all participants had the chance to experience the culture.

“It’s one thing to talk about turbans, but it’s another thing to actually experience it,” said Imanjit Singh, a fourth-year business student and head coordinator for the event. “The way that we believe it’s best to experience education is actually through experience.”

While Imanjit Singh noted the event would “bridge cultural gaps in the Laurier community,” he also emphasized its capacity to dispel misplaced fear, hatred and confusion.

“If there’s anyone that might not be comfortable with a turban or the way that we look because we have beards, this event is there to eliminate that,” he said. “We want people to be comfortable with who we are.”

Jaskeerat Singh, a member of Laurier SSA, noted the open-minded attitude among many participants contributed to the event’s success.

“It’s been a really great response from Laurier,” said Jaskeerat Singh. “A lot of people loved it. And even some people are like ‘you know what, maybe I won’t get a turban tied, maybe it’s not for me,’ but they just love learning something new.”

Sikh student associations in eastern Canada are united by the Sikh Youth Federation, the overarching coordinating body. In and around Sikh Awareness Day, multiple post-secondary institutions, including York University and the University of Waterloo, will be hosting similar events on their campuses — making TURBAN UP! a national affair.

“University is a great place to learn so why not learn about different cultures,” said Imanjit Singh.

While the turban stands as a significant symbol for holiness and spirituality, Singh also shared that it plays a significant role in public settings, as it allows Sikhs to be easily identified. From a young age, Sikhs are taught to be compassionate and considerate, and must act when help is needed.

“In this world, there’s a lot of grey men and what that means is that people don’t step up when people are being oppressed,” said Imanjit Singh.

“It’s very similar to how a police officer has his uniform, we have our uniform, so if you need help, if you need protection, whatever you need, a Sikh person can help you.”

From an outsider’s perspective, the turban may appear to be a gendered article, but Singh asserted that women can and do wear them, although many women choose not to. Notwithstanding, Singh shared that most Sikh women cover their heads, whether with a bandana or scarf.

“It’s a sign of modesty that they cover their head and it also pays respect to hair, because hair is such a valuable part of a Sikh person,” said Imanjit Singh.

Despite only being the second iteration of the event, Jaskeerat Singh noted the event has already developed a fan base.

“I love the fact that we’ve got people coming [back] each year now because they love the event so much,” said Jaskeerat Singh.

“The best part was that they remembered.”

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