On Friday March 14, the Sikh Student Association (SSA) hosted a Turban Day to spread awareness about the Sikh faith. Turban Day was one of three events hosted as part of Sikh Awareness Week at U of T, with the goal of spreading awareness about Sikh religion and culture.

At Turban Day, U of T students and staff were invited to wear a turban for one day and participate in free discussion about the Sikh faith, as well as ask any questions they had about Sikhism.

Following 9/11, Sikhs were increasingly targeted with hate crimes, such as the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin where a Neo-Nazi shot six Sikhs. In Canada, discrimination usually takes more subtle forms, such as bullying or verbal abuse, says Anamjit Singh Sivia, a second-year engineering student and director of global affairs for the association. He explains that “at the same time, it’s very important not to distance ourselves from Muslims because it’s not their fault that they’re being targeted. Don’t attack anyone, because you generalize an entire group of people.”

According to Sivia, discrimination against Sikhs is often a result of fear and ignorance. To help combat this, the SSA organized Sikh Awareness Week, and specifically Turban Day, to demystify the turban and explain the philosophy behind it.

“Living in the Greater Toronto Area, we are fortunate to be part of an exceptionally diverse community and this three-part event will provide for an opportunity to experience this diversity in a more engaging manner, thus encouraging self-awareness,” said Jasleen Arneja, a second-year global health and physiology student and the founding director of SSA.

Arneja wanted students to take part in Turban Day “so that they know what it feels like to wear a turban and know that there are no bombs in there.” The objective is to familiarize students and staff alike with the Sikh way of life and motivate them to ask questions about the faith.

Students participating in Turban Day were allowed to choose a turban from a multitude of colours and engage in fruitful discussion regarding Sikhism. They received pamphlets explaining the message of Sikhi and its ten Gurus, and learned interesting facts about the religion, while listening to lively Sikh music.

Members of the SSA explained that the turban has a practical and symbolic function. Traditionally, Sikhs never cut their hair and the turban keeps it neat and clean. Symbolically, the turban stands for equality. Sikhism emerged in northern India in the fifteenth century, where turbans were worn by the royalty only.

By sharing their culture, religion and tradition, the SSA hopes to spread tolerance and awareness among the U of T community and lift the confusion regarding Sikh identity. This was the first time the SSA hosted Sikh Awareness Week, and so far the response has been significant. More than one hundred students tried on turbans and explore the Sikh faith.

Arneja said that the SSA will definitely hold another Turban Day next year.