by Guest Contributor Amit S. Bagga
As a preface, I encourage you to read this edited excerpt from Harsha Walia’s response to this incident on the Racialicious blog:
“To my Sikh sisters and brothers: this incident is yet another reminder of what it means for us to be racialized as Others and as eternal
Outsiders…We cannot see and name ourselves as ‘accidental’ victims of Islamophobia, which suggests that somehow Muslims are
more “appropriate” targets of racism…Striving to be more desirable within an oppressive system–that is built on our social discipline and compels our obedience–will never set us free. What will set us free is our collective liberation and thriving as the proud brown people we were meant to be.”
I am a Sikh. Or at least half. With his hair shorn. Yeah, it’s kinda nebulous. This has been my refrain for as long as I can remember. I’ve been as attached to “my” Sikh identity as strongly as a stray hair hanging out from the back of a poorly-tied turban (though not my father’s, let me assure you. No stray hairs there).
South Asian social mores would dictate that a child (a son, no less) born to a Sikh father would undoubtedly raised a Sikh. He would don a little bun wound into tightly-wrapped cloth (joora) atop his head, murmuring Guru Granth Sahib verses alongside a set of twangy, off-key pajis and, at least in the US, being shipped off to various camps to memorize, recite, and maybe–just maybe–internalize something. Well, that was not the case with me. In fact, for a variety of reasons, some intentional, most not, the development of my identity as a Sikh was not quite “marginalized,” but certainly somewhat subverted, and I was reared a good Hindu boy by a mother suspended somewhere between Punjabi goddess worship and post-colonial, urban, middle-class Brahminism.
The world in the 1980s. The Golden Temple incident; Indira Gandhi has been assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards; Hindus and Sikhs are busy killing each other in the streets of Delhi; we live in a Bronx neighborhood where outsiders, despite this being New York City, are not particularly well-liked. So, the decision is made: he will not wear a joora and, as such, the Sikh bit a fell to the side. Though the decisions may not have been conscious, Punjabi was eschewed in favor of Hindi, and Guru Nanak eschewed in favor of Durga. To be fair, I learned how to recite many verses and went to the gurdwara and sat through langar, as well as the many in-home readings of the holy book, that both sides of my family, despite one being Hindu, decided to keep–but it wasn’t quite the same. At the end of the day, the Sikh-est thing about me was my middle name–and, well, the manifestation of that which pulses in all Sikh blood–the ability to two-step to a little bhangra. Continue reading