Manjinder Singh Sirsa, RT, November 29, 2019
Madrid airport officials reportedly asked a senior Sikh pilot to remove his turban despite metal detector clearance, provoking strong reaction from the Sikh community. The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee head spoke to RT.
I was attending a family function when I got a call from Captain Simran Singh Gujral, an Air India official who sounded distressed.
He shared how he was being harassed at Madrid Airport, where officials were asking him to remove his turban; they were manhandling him and disrespecting his religious faith despite him passing the metal detector test. He sought my help in that moment.
It was 12:30am and I immediately tweeted about the situation, seeking help from the country’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar Ji. A few minutes later, I got Captain Gujral’s message that he had been given the go-ahead at the airport but the experience had already left its scars.
Had it been a stand-alone incident, I would have forgotten about it. But such incidents happen so frequently in Europe and the US that I feel like starting a conversation around it.
Why are Sikhs treated in such a biased and racial manner despite them being the leaders in all humanitarian causes? Sikhs are the first ones to offer help to the needy; can we forget how Sikhs were the front-runners in helping the victims of the Manchester and Paris attacks? Wherever there is a natural calamity, Sikhs reach out very first and serve food/water and medicine without any bias or agenda. If the world recognizes the selfless service of turban wearers, why are some countries still so averse to the people donning these turbans?
The world is full of people who make Sikhism and turbans famous. Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal, the first Sikh deputy in Harris County, who was assassinated while doing his duty, was known for his humanitarian contributions to Texas. He was a unifying figure in the Houston area and even the non-Sikh population mourned his death and came forward to support his family. Recently, we all saw how top leaders of the world adorned the turban as part of the 550th Parkash Purab celebrations of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
Yet, the people in Europe continue to play their ignorance card when it comes to Sikhs and disrespect the turban. Western culture hasn’t accepted our turban, more because of their racist attitude, and less because of the fear element. I have been raising my voice against such incidents for the last few years. In 2016 as well, I wrote a letter to the US ambassador regarding an incident of disrespect of the turban and a Sikh boy at a US airport. In the same year, Sikh American actor and model Waris Ahluwalia was barred from a flight for refusing to remove his turban.
The turban is a part of the Sikh identity and asking any Sikh to remove it is racial prejudice. Such incidents are happening a lot these days and it is not at all because of ignorance. First-world countries enjoy looking down on us because of our turban. Let me share with everyone why Sikhs wear a turban: it is a blessing of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who wanted to promote equality in an era when only nobility wore turbans. So he asked his Khalsa warriors to wear turbans to reflect the fact that a Khalsa (Sikh) believes in equality and respect.
As a devout Sikh, I value my turban more than my life; quoting a famous Shabad “Sir Jaave Ta Jaave Mera Sikhi Sidak Na Jave,” which means that “I am willing to sacrifice my head; but I must not lose my Sikh way of life.” The turban is a way of life for Sikhs and I would be happy to be part of a world that accepts my turban, respects it, and reflects on the emotional commitment of Sikhs’ attire.