Sikhs in the Army

There has been much noise in recent days of Sikhs wanting to enlist in the U.S. Army and being unable to do so because they insist on following their religious mandates of uncut hair, an untrimmed beard, and covering their hair with a turban. The recent news stories are summarized here:

As usual, a myriad of folks have come out chiding the Sikh person for not conforming by disobeying his religion and removing his hair and beard. Such comments have been supported with questions that have typically come up whenever similar stories have come in the media of how Sikhs are expected to wear gas masks, how can they perform in combat operations without a helmet, etc… The point is that all of these issues are in fact, non-issues and are completely unfounded. There is much literature on Sikhs’ performance in the various wars throughout history and their success in said wars with turbans and beards, so I will not pursue that discussion here. However, I would like to take this opportunity to point out a level of hypocrisy  which people who oppose Sikhs in the military on the aforementioned grounds seem to have a penchant for. Here are just a few examples of countless numbers of White, American soldiers fighting in US conflicts with beards and in some cases, long hair. Why weren’t the same questions and objections raised in their cases?

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Here are just some examples of Sikhs fighting and giving their lives in World War II for the Allied forces. As you can see, there are no technical issues of turbans and beard arising in these cases:

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Winston Churchill had this to say about Sikhs as well:

“…..It is a matter of regret that due to the obsession of the present times people are distorting the superior religious and social values, but those who wish to preserve them with respect, we should appreciate them as well as help them. Sikhs do need our help for such a cause and we should give it happily. Those who know the Sikh history, know England’s relationship with the Sikhs and are aware of the achievements of the Sikhs, they should persistently support the idea of relaxation to Sikhs to ride a motorbike with their turbans on, because it is their religious privilege.”

Churchill, further added:

“…British people are highly indebted and obliged to Sikhs for a long time. I know that within this century we needed their help twice and they did help us very well. As a result of their timely help, we are today able to live with honour, dignity, and independence. In the war, they fought and died for us, wearing the turbans. At that time we were not adamant that they should wear safety helmets because we knew that they are not going to wear them anyways and we would be deprived of their help. At that time due to our miserable and poor situation, we did not force it on them to wear safety helmets, why should we force it now? Rather, we should now respect their traditions and by granting this legitimate concession, win their applaud.”

So, we should all strive to be a bit more educated in this regard. These exemptions have been granted to White, American soldiers in the past, and even if not in a formal sense, there is an eerie silence coming from the same critics of Sikhs wanting to join the military when non-Sikhs have also not conformed to these rules as the above pictures clearly demonstrate.

Sikhs and Diwali

For years now, I have heard this constant story of how it is acceptable for Sikhs to celebrate Diwali as per the Hindu traditions of lighting lamps, etc… Further, Raagis and Bhai Sahibs in Gurdwaras have conflated Bandhi Chorr Diwas with lighting lamps as per Hindu Diwali traditions. They further support these ideas with the supposed Vaar from Bhai Gurdas Jee, in which they ironically only mention and repeat the first line! : “deewaalee dee raath dheevae baaleean”. Of course, just by reading this line, it would suggest that the aforementioned actions are justified. But taking one line completely out of context leads one to these conclusions. A full reading of Bhai Gurdas Jee’s Vaar on the Diwali matter which given the timeframe is also a historical first-hand account suggests that Sikhs are to practice completely the opposite and in fact, lighting lamps is contrary to Gurmat. The full Vaar’s transliteration is below:

Vaars Bhai Gurdaas

diwali dee raath dheevae baaleeani
thaarae jaath sanaath a(n)bar bhaaleean
fulaa(n) dhee baagaath chun chun chaaleean
theerathh jaathee jaath nain nihaaleean
har cha(n)dhuree jhaath vasaae ouchaaleean
guramukh sukhafal dhaath shabadh samhaaleean

The essence of this Vaar is in every line after the first. Namely, in the third, fourth, and fifth lines, Bhai Gurdas Jee compares those that celebrate Diwali by lighting lamps akin to those who go on long pilgrimages to find God, and to those who search for God by worshipping the stars, or things in nature, etc… All contrary to Gurmat by a simple reading of Japjee Sahib! Indeed, Bhai Sahib Jee in the last line clearly states that a person of Gurmat does not practice any of these things, which he declares to be temporary and pointless.

So, there you have it. A simple reading of the full Vaar changes the entire context of the “importance” of Diwali in Sikhism. I doubt many Sikhs will read this posting with sincerity, but someone has to speak the truth!