Turbans Make Targets, Some Sikhs Find

June 15, 2008

Author: Kevin Coyne

Source: The New York Times


The men sat barefoot and cross-legged on the thick burgundy carpet in the cavernous old supermarket where they worship, singing hymns in Punjabi as they faced the palki, the golden canopy that sheltered the sacred text of the Sikh faith. Most of them wore the turbans they wear everywhere, but some wore the bandanas they wear only here, their choice a measure of the cost of life in a new land.

To wear a turban in America — even in a state that has absorbed as many waves of immigration as New Jersey has — is to subject yourself to judgment by strangers, not all of whom have warm and fuzzy feelings about diversity.

“You get these looks all the time, especially after Sept. 11,” said Rajinder Singh, 57, who holds two doctorates, works as a chemist for a pharmaceutical company, has never cut his hair, following the requirement of his faith, and wears a turban. “You could see people — their lips inside their car — that this person is swearing at me.”

Muslims have absorbed much discrimination in the United States in recent years, but also caught in the crossfire have been Sikhs, members of a religious minority from India whose men happen to wear a similar head covering, and who have endured similar suspicions since the terrorist attacks and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.