Swayed by West, Sikhs shed turbans

London, England - Growing Western intolerance and a series of racial attacks have prompted young Sikh to shed their hair and turbans.

The trend is a reflection of growing intolerance in the West towards overtly religious clothing - especially veils and turbans - five years after 9/11.

Many young Sikh men who have cut their hair say they did so to escape the humiliation of turban searches at Western airports or to avoid being mistaken for Muslims, according to The Times.

A growing number of young Sikh men are now unfurling their turbans, shaving their beards and trimming their hair. And this trend is not only confined to the overseas Sikh community but also increasing in India as well.

There have been many instances of Sikhs being targeted for their long hair and turbans.

Balbir Singh Sodi, a petrol station owner, was shot dead in Arizona in the US September 15, 2001. His American killer, bent on revenge for 9/11, thought that Sodi's turban indicated that he was an Arab.

Turbans have been banned from French state schools, as have Muslim headscarves, under a 'secularity' law that came into effect in 2004.

"Sikhs in turbans gave their lives by the thousands to defend France and other Western countries in the First and Second World Wars," said Avtar Singh Makkar, member of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), the community's top decision-making body. "Why should they be denied the freedom that they fought and died for?"

Last month, a court in Denmark upheld a ruling that an Indian Sikh had broken the law by carrying his ceremonial dagger, the kirpan, in public.

And only last week a Sikh teenager was abused and his hair cut off by a gang of youths in Edinburgh.

Community leaders fear that the turban may now also be banned in Britain, home to about 5,00,000 Sikhs. The SGPC has already written to Tony Blair and other top European leaders to protect the rights of the Sikhs.

The issue is serious enough to have prompted the SGPC to speak out. "This is a challenge to the traditional Sikh identity," said Singh.

Singh attributed the alarming trend among Sikh youths to the influence of Western culture.

"Young boys are doing this because they want to look smart. They think this because of the influence of modern culture through the Western media," he said. "It is our task to educate them about the sacrifices that have been made for their religion and to bring them back to their faith."