|The Kara is a steel bracelet worn by warriors. I’ve worn mine non-stop for over 11 years.|
I am deeply saddened by the tragedy at the Sikh Gurdwara outside of Milwaukee. I am also very angry. I’m trying to reconcile the two. My wife became an honorary Sikh in the 80s, but that is her story to tell when she is ready.
Eleven years ago my marriage was on the rocks. I’m not going to go into the details of how I almost derailed it, but I made an important decision: it was a marriage worth fighting for. In changing my attitude and strengthening myself to not give up, I started a long journey to repair the damage I had done. This was the longer difficult path, the shorter easier path would have been to dissolve the marriage. It has taken years to turn around.
After my struggles with our marriage, my wife gave me a gift: a Kara. It is a steel bracelet worn by warriors and one of the five items all Sikhs of faith must bear. In fighting for my own marriage, in the struggle and fight against myself and my own issues, she felt I deserved it. I have worn it every day since. It has replaced my wedding band as a constant reminder of my dedication, struggles and strength I put forth in my marriage. It is a stronger symbol of love than any gold band could give; it is a stronger piece of metal, harder to break.
My brother-in-law married in Chicago, 2001. Being the only member of our extended Indian family that knew how to tie a turban, I tied one onto my brother for his wedding. While my brother celebrated his honeymoon in India, September 11th happened: he shaved his beard.
Many different people across the world wear turbans: Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims; Indians, Middle-Easterners, Far Easterners, Africans. They’re as ubiquitous as hats. Sikhs have rules there religion dictates; one is a man or woman does not cut their hair. This usually means you’ll see a beard and they’ll wrap their hair in a turban. Some Americans see turban and beard and immediately become fearful or hateful.
Shortly after the World Trade Center attacks, Sikhs across America were targeted. People saw turban, beard and brown skin and decided they were guilty of something – usually focusing their hatred. A turban in the east is the same tie-wearing in the west. Just because someone wears one does not make him anything. Having a beard does not make you a killer. The 9/11 attackers were not wearing uncut bears and a turban; they were wearing business casual. In today’s America most religious/hate crimes are committed by white men, but it’s harder for us see and blame white men as “the other”.
I really wanted my brother to keep his beard, but I understood why he didn’t. People were attacking Sikhs. They were attacking men in turbans, men with beards. He’s Hindu and wanted to feel safe.
While visiting Gwalior, India, in 2002; we explained Sikh attacks in America to the Rajasthani hotel staff. They were dumbfounded: “they’re not even the same kind of turban,” they exclaimed. We tried to convey that people in the west can’t tell the difference. This was beyond their understanding; just like here in the west someone with a beard or turban is beyond the understanding of who they are, who they might be. We all have our blind spots of ignorance.
I’m not saying I know the motivations of the shooter in suburban Milwaukee on Sunday; I don’t want to. My heart goes out to my fellow Americans slain or wounded from this hate crime. I’ve witnessed many hate-crimes in my lifetime: cross-burnings in my hometown of Dubuque, IA in 1991; anti-Sikh from 9/11 to today; ongoing anti-Muslim attacks and temple burnings and a daily onslaught of speech against those of any faith.
Are we really that hateful?
My answer is no, we are not. We are not defined as a people from the actions of a few. Hate exists. Ignorance spewed. There are uncountable millions in this land who do not feel this way. We stand with you, all of you. Sat Sri Akaal my brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, you are one of us: American. An attack on you is an attack on America and American beliefs: the freedom to peaceably celebrate our own faiths.
The essence of Sikh teaching is summed up by Guru Nanak Dev in these words: "Realization of Truth is higher than all else. Higher still is truthful living". Sikh teaching emphasizes the principle of equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and gender. – Source Wikipedia
I have a special place in my heart for Sikhs: they have suffered so much. In 1984 many were massacred in India. After that: numbers of Sikhs came to America to escape religious persecution in their homeland (a truly American story).
They are a proud and strong people, standing up for freedom and fighting oppression. Sikhs teach that the true battles are within: our hearts, spirit and soul.
This was my battle I forged within myself to save my marriage. I had to change myself from the inside.
I have always had a strong draw to the warrior path. The struggles I believe in fighting are injustice in the world. I fight within myself to change who I am for the better. I fight for the little guy at work, one whose voice can’t be heard. I fight against those who speak and breed hatred.
It’s no surprise my Met Tet is Ogou, the warrior in Vodou.
During this time I want to do something. I need to do something. Hate crimes are wrong. We must stand up against them. We must stand in solidarity. I’m not sure exactly what that is? Shall I wear a headscarf (from my religion) in show of support? Shall I wear one of my many turbans from my own collection? (All Rajasthani style.) I feel I need to do something to stand with my fellow Americans to show support, that not all people are this ignorant, that we support them in this difficult time.
I hope my wearing of the Kara is not offensive to people. I know some are offended by the wearing of religious symbols of one’s faith by others. Mine is worn with an attempt of respect of my Sikh brothers and sisters, but more to a symbol to myself of my own struggles. I am not Sikh, but I respect them deeply.