| Bernama | Malaysia | 25 July 2016 | Asia Samachar |
The Punjabi Sikhs in Malaysia are an extreme minority but the men from the community most often stand out from the crowd with their trademark headdress, the turban.
Representing about 80,000 in number, the Sikhs are a highly cohesive, hardworking and organised group, clinging closely to their culture, traditions and beliefs.
However, their traditional ways are slowly changing with time. No thanks to the changing aspirations of the community itself and the pressure of external influences.
THE CHANGING TIMES
It was once mandatory for the Sikhs among others to practice Kesh, where they grew their hair long and tied it into a simple knot and then covered it with the turban that gave the Punjabi Sikh men their distinct look.
Other than the religious requirement, the men see the turban as a way to protect the hair which is a blessing from god whereas the women regard the turban as a symbol of identity, pride and respect.
However, now many see that sporting short hair provides a modern look and hence the number of Punjabi Sikhs keeping long hair or wearing the turban is on the decline.
“The influence of technology, fashion and even a lack of understanding on their own belief system are among the reasons why the younger Sikh generation stop growing their hair and wearing the turban. It has become a social norm among both genders to keep their hair short,” lamented Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman’s (UTAR) Assistant Professor Dr Charanjit Kaur Darshan Singh.
A brief study that Charanjit jointly conducted with UTAR lecturer Ashwinder Kaur on the Bollywood influence on the community highlighted the changing aspirations of the Punjabi Sikhs as well.
The study revealed many Sikh women were not keen to see their future husbands wearing the turban and keep a beard and moustache. Naturally this is a cause of concern for young Sikh men with turban.
“These are among the challenges and dilemma faced by the Sikh community in Malaysia in keeping with their ethnic and religious identity,” she said.
WHAT IS DRIVING THE CHANGE
Charanjit pointed out one of the notable external influence on the community comes from Indian cinema, Bollywood.
Though Bollywood flicks may not be the main reason for these changes happening in the Sikh community, their influence cannot be underestimated as found by the joint study entitled “The Influence of Bollywood Films On Punjabi Sikh Youths Perception Of Their Religious Identity”.
When Bollywood films portrayed Sikh characters, especially heroes, and the way they dressed, their action and attitude, viewers easily accepted what they saw even when it did not fit the ideals of the community, she said.
Popular Bollywood actors like Akshay Kumar, Saif Ali Khan and Ajay Devgan were among the heroes who played the role of Sikh men in turbans. In the film Son of Sardar (2012), she said Ajay Devgan portrayed a Sikh character negatively through words and actions.
There were times that much of what was depicted about the Sikh community in Bollywood films were not representative of Punjabi Sikh culture and practices. Often Bollywood films intensified the Sikh stereotyping and portrayed scenes that were against religious teachings and morality.
Even so, she said Sikh youths could identify the negative characteristics of Bollywood heroes who committed crime, consumed alcohol and danced with semi-nude women which were against their religion and principles.
Nonetheless, this not only causes negative influences on the youths in the community but also creates a wrong perception among other Malaysians on Punjabi Sikhs.
LACKING THE OUTLETS TO LEARN AND REFLECT
According to Charanjit, as a minority, exposure on the cultural and religious practices of the Punjabi Sikh community in the mass media is limited.
Usually, the Punjabi Sikh community will get some media coverage during the annual Vaisakhi festivities held on April 14.
“In this country, there is no radio or television station dedicated to the Punjabi community. This lack of exposure is why other races understand little about the Punjabi community and why Punjabi youths do not get the chance to learn about the ideals of their community and religion.
“However, the Sikh community always acts collectively to defend their religion and culture to minimize and monitor the Sikh identity crisis among the younger generation,” she said. — Bernama (21 July 2016)
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