One of the most distinguishing features about Sikhs is the practice of keeping long uncut hair kes. Some women, do not cut the hair on their head, some do not cut or trim any hair at all, while others cut their hair. With any religion, people practice it to the degree they want to or are comfortable with. Which forces Sikh women, both who chose to be Sikh and are born Sikh, into being constantly policed on what they do with their hair. And the second reason for keeping hair is due to the heavy persecution Sikhs were facing at the time.
The turban and hair became an identity marker, which made people easily identified as Sikh so people were able to uphold their faith. It also forces people to be held up to a higher standard. Guru Gobind Singh also asked people to begin wearing the turban, something Sikhs had already begun to do, in an attempt to mimic the Gurus styles.
The turban was chosen because at the time they were a symbol of aristocracy, and allowing women and lower-caste people to wear it aimed to abolish the structure within itself.
Then, why is it that most Sikh women do not wear the turban? Technically, we should be wearing them too. Of course, people practice religion to whatever extent their comfortable with. The way kes is performed for Sikh women is currently heavily influenced by patriarchy. The ideal Sikh woman for most Sikhs of course this varies , is one who keeps the hair on her head but still removes facial and body hair.
On the other hand, women who chose to keep their body hair or choose to wear the turban are seen as masculine and not fit for marriage. Both visions are tied to sexuality and gender appearance. Because if it was about Sikhism, people would not be dissuading their daughters from taking Amrit and wearing a turban. The ideal Sikh woman for most Sikhs, is one who keeps the hair on her head but still removes facial and body hair. That being said, I still wax my legs and underarms and occasionally thread my upper lip.
Where does Sikhism fall in that? It has not been easy for me, with lots of weird hostility and strange questions from non-Sikhs. But, I do not have to face as much hostility from my family, as they all perform Kes in the same ways I do, even if not for the same reasons. In this way, I know I almost have the ideal Sikh practice. Yet when I refuse to pluck my eyebrows or wax my arms I am literally bullied about not doing it from a variety of different women in my family. Many Amritdhari baptized women who wear a turban are regulated for wearing revealing clothes because they have made this choice to become baptized despite the fact that people are okay with Amritdhari men walking around in shorts.
Women who chose to keep their body hair or choose to wear the turban are seen as masculine and not fit for marriage. Amritdhari Sikh woman Harnaam Kaur, who is based in the UK has been very popular on social media recently because of her body positivity. But I wanted to make my own decisions and live for myself — not anyone else.
Here the gaze of patriarchy on Sikh women is dictating both acceptable and not acceptable hair practices. What is our practice if we only look at our presentation through this heterosexual male gaze? And how does the equalizing tradition of Sikhism work through this lens? You can be a good person and cut your hair, and you can be a terrible one and keep it. You cannot be too morally loose, and you cannot be too masculine. The most important thing is to understand how the tradition works for Sikh women, not how Sikh women work for the tradition.
And make sure to question family and practice. Well written article Jasveen! Shines light on a lot of points I totally agree with. In the end, I believe we should do what feels right inside and not be afraid of judgement and pressure from family or society. Being victim to outside pressure and trying to please everyone, only leaves us lost in the middle while not truly being happy or fulfilled ourselves.
Its important to remember its really only God who sees us in whole, people only see what they want to see. Interesting article Jasveen! I for one was surprised at how you have chosen to keep your hair as a push back to Hindu Nationalism, but once I digested it, it made sense to me.
I feel blessed to be one of the few who challenged what I was taught, and went against the norm as a teenager and decided to throw off the shackles people had placed on me as a young child — and it has made all the difference to me as an adult. I sometimes feel sad being unable to follow the wonderful religion I was born into, but to do so inevitably has me being exposed to, lectured and policed by other hype religious Sikhs whose narrow mindedness and mysoginy is far too much for my progrrssive soul.
So I have chosen the non-kes way of being myself, while keeping close to me the values that I learnt from Sikhism — I have defiantly cut my hair most of my life and will continue to grow it as long and short as I please.
No one tells me what to do with my hair, or how good a Sikh that makes me! Even to those who claim to be guardians of the faith you were born into. While I am sure you will not agree with everything I have said, I wanted to let you know — I respect your right to intepret the Sikh faith in your own way, as much as I respect mine to do the same. And ginormous respect to the young lady you mention in your article who chose to grow her facial hair after being baptised!!!
I am immensely grateful to have been born Sikh, and even though I have largely left my birth religion behind and chosen to be non-religious, having studied the Sikh religion and history as a child helped me become an impassioned humanist as an adult.
How awesome to have served Langar as a child and learnt how to respect every single human there — irrespective of gender, age, religion or caste! Recognize when you are unfairly placing a standard on your […]. This is a great article. I always had questions about Sikh women growing or cutting their hair and never got clear answers from sikh friends.
I never probed too much because I was afraid of being rude. This article provides all the answers. I agree with you. Then I asked him why men are allowed to wear t-shirts and jeans. He had no answer. Sign in. Log into your account. Password recovery. Friday, February 28, FII Hindi. Forgot your password? Get help. Feminism In India. Watch: Understanding Sexual Consent. Watch: What Is Intersectional Feminism?
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