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Brophy Roundup

The Student News Site of Brophy College Preparatory

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Sikh students search for identity, fight prejudice

By Garrison Murphy ’15

Photos by Grant Borcher ’14 – Chandan Saini ’14, a practicing Sikh, poses for a portrait September 2013 and again in April several months after deciding to cut his hair and shaving for the first time. “The hair is supposed to be a gift from God, but I feel like its more important what you do in your life,” Saini said.

Chandan Saini ’14 and Maanik Chotalla ’16 have many things in common.

They are both basketball fans, both come from traditional Indian families and they are both practicing Sikhs.

One thing Saini and Chotalla don’t have in common is the experience of getting a haircut.

Last November Saini cut his hair and shaved his beard for the first time, which are both customary articles of faith in Sikh tradition. The religion forbids men and women from cutting their hair or shaving.

Saini said he is still faithful to every aspect of Sikhism except for having uncut hair.

“The hair is supposed to be a gift from God … but I feel like what you do in your life matters more,” Saini said.

Chotalla, a sophomore, said he has considered cutting his hair but has not done so because of family, community pressure and tradition.

“My brother cut his hair, and it was hard on the community,” Chotalla said. “On a personal standpoint, I think (cutting hair) isn’t a huge deal for me… but as of right now I think I will be keeping it.”

According to an article in the Washington Post, an estimated 25 percent of all male Sikhs continue to wear turbans while the rest cut their hair.

Part of the “Five Articles of Faith” in Sikhism, uncut hair isn’t the only thing Saini and other Sikhs have discarded over the years.

Followers were once mandated to carry a dagger, comb and bracelet as a testament to their faith along with a turban and purity underwear.

Saini and Chotalla both agree that most modern Sikhs have neglected to carry all five Articles of Faith.

“That ship has sailed long ago … not very many people follow all five of the physical Articles of Faith,” Chotalla said.

In recent years some Sikhs have faced controversy with state, local and federal legislature regarding the Five Articles of Faith, especially since one of the items is a dagger, according to Saini.

School dress code requires students to be cleanly shaven and have their hair cut.

Admissions Director Mr. Mike Ward said there are no campus rules and admissions policies specifically regarding Sikhs, or people of any faith tradition.

“If it’s part of his culture, it’s allowed,” Ward said. “Overall, with the Sikh religion … if they’re strict followers we’re not going to step in the way and say you can’t do that.”

Saini said Brophy, a Catholic Jesuit school, is an extremely accepting community for Sikhs.

“In recent years Sikh’s have been persecuted against greatly especially with 9/11, a lot of people mistake us as Muslim,” Saini said.

According to the Sikh Coalition, more than 300 hate crimes have been perpetrated against Sikhs since 9/11.

In Arizona, one of the most infamous crimes against a Sikh occurred on Sept. 15, 2001 when a Sikh man was shot and killed after being mistaken for a terrorist, according to a 2012 article in the Huffington Post. Since then three other Sikhs in Arizona have been victims of violent hate crimes.

“It’s hard to visually distinguish between Sikhs and Muslims,” said Bobby Enright ’15. “But I think that the reason a lot of Sikhs are killed is because of fear.”

Saini said he thinks ignorance is the main cause of prejudice against Sikhs, and many people unfoundedly fear Sikhs.

When Saini first walked on campus almost four years ago he looked much different than he does today.

He spent most of his life wearing a turban and growing a beard.

Up until the day he cut his hair and shaved his beard he said he not only looked like a different person but felt like another person as well.

“Everyone was accepting towards me, but I wasn’t accepting towards myself,” Saini said. “I now feel much more comfortable in my own skin.”

He said this was an extremely difficult decision, but received support from his family, friends and school faculty.

“In my conversations with him I think we were just worried about him and the decision he made,” said Mr.  Scott Heideman, who taught Saini’s health class. “Whether or not he has the hair he does now, or decided to keep it the way it was I think it will just reflect who he is as a young man.”

Saini said his relationship with his mother has improved since he cut his hair and shaved his beard and most people in the community haven’t expressed disapproval.

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